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S.F. troupe attacks war with wit, humor
Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic
July 06, 2007

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Lisa Hori-Garcia performs one of several dynamic roles in the musical comedy "Making a Killing." Credit: ho

Sitting Clapping ManMaking a Killing: Musical comedy. By Michael Gene Sullivan and Jon Brooks. Music and lyrics by Pat Moran. Directed by Ellen Callas and Sullivan. (Through Sept. 29. 85 minutes. Free. Call (415) 285-1717 or visit www.sfmt.org). War isn't healthy for children, but it's awfully good to the corporations fattening at the feeding trough of Operation Enduring Freedom. "Awful" is the operative word. In the San Francisco Mime Troupe's "Making a Killing," which opened Wednesday in Dolores Park, White House-connected war profiteers grow fat while Iraqi children suffer the deadly consequences.

Part savagely acute political satire, part living newspaper and all broad, tuneful and timely musical comedy, "Killing" is the Mime Troupe's most direct grapple yet with the war in Iraq. It's very funny and equally politically engaged. It's also packed with infuriating information -- about everything from the wanton destruction of Iraqi society to the poisoning of its land with uranium-tipped armaments -- in the best tradition of agitprop theater.

It certainly seemed to energize the hundreds of Fourth of July celebrators gathered for the Mime Troupe's traditional summer opener. After baking in the sun for some two hours -- counting the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence's benediction -- the crowd leapt to its feet with a roar at the end.

The show's sharp humor and political smarts deserve no less. "Killing" isn't as tight as the Mime Troupe at its best, but it's bracing in its ambition and, for the most part, impressive in execution.

The script, by Michael Gene Sullivan (assisted by Jon Brooks), alternates between White House satire and the enlightening tale of two U.S. Army newspaper reporters. Privates Emiliano Jones (a solid, earnest Victor Toman) and Marcus Johnson (an eager, innocent Kevin Rolston) have been assigned to deliver a feel-good story on the building of a children's cancer clinic outside Baghdad. Jones, a radical investigative reporter before getting recalled by the Army, has learned his personal safety lies in keeping his stories upbeat. The newly arrived, gung-ho journalist Johnson wants to follow the story wherever it leads.

It leads, among other things, to rampant corruption, the destruction of Iraq's once admired medical system and the probable cause of a child cancer epidemic (true story). Not to mention the shenanigans in the White House, where Dick Cheney (Ed Holmes) and Condoleezza Rice (Velina Brown) are jockeying for future seats on corporate boards. Meanwhile, there's a trial going on. The story is told in flashback during Jones' prosecution for the murder of his colleague and lover Johnson.

Keiko Shimosato's sharp costumes help keep all the story lines straight as parts of Jon Wai-Keung Lowe's inventive set revolve, fold out or pop open for the separate locations. Some transitions could be smoother in Ellen Callas and Sullivan's stagings, but the complicated plots generally flow well. The music is more problematic. Songwriter and musical director Pat Moran (replacing longtime troupe composer Bruce Barthol, who retired earlier this year) writes infectious melodies and witty lyrics, but he's placed the showstoppers in the first part of the play, letting the energy run down with more sincere ballads.

Toman and Rolston are good, and Lisa Hori-Garcia is dynamic in several roles. Local treasures and troupe veterans Brown, Holmes and Sullivan raise the comic, musical and dramatic stakes with every appearance.

Brown, whose scheming Condi is a delight, kicks "Killing" into high gear as a pop diva with an opening hip-hop hymn to post-9/11 patriotism ("You got to do what your country tells you to"). Sullivan, outstanding as the entire remaining staff of a hospital, delivers a terrific yearning blues number as the reporters' commanding officer, dreaming of a personal happy ending with Fox News. Holmes' Cheney -- rising from an undisclosed location to greet the anticipated crowd reaction with a two-fisted middle-finger salute -- is classic political satire that gets better every time he takes on the role.

Brown, Sullivan and Holmes also appear briefly as deftly limned members of a military unit. The amount of information about different aspects of the war packed into this brief bit is a testament to the enormity of the task writer Sullivan has undertaken, and to the troupe's success in pulling it off with a minimum of didacticism and plenty of provocative entertainment. Mime Troupe schedule

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