Strange doings in Obscuristan
Scott Rosenberg's
Monday, August 12, 2002

One of the greatest pleasures of my years as the theater critic for the SF Examiner was the opportunity to cover the work of the San Francisco Mime Troupe each year. This theater collective with a distracting name (they don't do what's conventionally understood as mime at all) has been carting its free outdoor shows to Bay Area parks in the summer for over 40 years now. It has managed to invent its own tradition, mixing sharp political satire and musical comedy in the vein of 19th-century melodrama -- think Gilbert & Sullivan meets "Dr. Strangelove" meets Brecht, with doses of vaudeville and Mad magazine thrown in for fun. The motivation is progressive politics, but the method is pure comedy.

This year's show, "Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan," borrows its plot structure from Capra's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," transplanting the action to a mythical Central Asian country and transforming the hero into Jefferson Smith, a firefighter-hero of 9/11 who gets drafted by the Bush administration to observe the first "free" elections in Obscuristan. There are jabs about the U.S.'s last "fixed" election; merciless mockery of President Bush, Dick Cheney and even Barbara Bush; gags about Internet-connected mullahs and a shadowy opposition candidate named "Ralif Nadir"; and, beyond the jokes, a thoughtful tracing of the distinction between honest post-9/11 patriotism and good old American jingoism, self-interest and hypocrisy. The script is co-written by my old friend Josh Kornbluth, so I cannot offer an impartial review, but I can offer a highly biased recommendation: See it if you're in the area.

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