S.F. Mime Troupe goes to 'Obscuristan'
The company's new summer show takes a crack at political absurdities post-Sept. 11
Robert Hurwitt, Chronicle Theater Critic
Saturday, July 6, 2002
In true collective spirit, Kornbluth shares credit for the script with Mime Troupe mainstay Michael Gene Sullivan (and the company), who plays the title role and co-directed with Keiko Shimosato, who also plays a lead role and designed the amusingly acute White House and Central Asian costumes. The upbeat and bluesy, all-American and Central Asian-inflected songs are by musical director and keyboardist Jason Sherbundy with lyrics by longtime company songwriter Bruce Barthol.
A cleverly designed set (by Torrey Hyman and Michael Carreiro) allows for quick, humorous transitions from the Oval Office to the barren mountains of Obscuristan, a desert nation so "dirt poor" that it has to import sand. Designated a key outpost in the war on terror (a war "brought to you by Chevy trucks" in one piquant sound bite), Obscuristan is now holding its first-ever democratic elections, sponsored by the United States and rigged in favor of former Soviet-backed warlord Automaht Regurgitov (a comically corrupt Victor Toman), now a free-enterprise supporter who's privatized all the key industries -- and owns them.
Back in the Oval Office of a wonderfully clueless, pretzel-possessed President Bush (Amos Glick, refining his deft caricature from last year's "1600 Transylvania Avenue"), Velina Brown's blithely balletic Condoleezza Rice and Ed Holmes' no-nonsense, corrupt Dick Cheney are trying to find a way to make the election look honest and hide their corporate interests in the region.
(Cheney isn't the evil power behind the presidential seal, as he was in last year's play, but Holmes returns in a brilliant cameo as the White House prime mover in a knockout scene with Glick that stops the show.)
That's where Sullivan's buoyantly straight-arrow Smith comes in. A genuine American hero (he's a New York firefighter), he's sent to monitor the Obscuristan elections. But there are complications. A genuine democratic nationalist (Glick as a nine-lived, fervidly rational Ralif Nadir) keeps popping up to challenge Regurgitov's one-party ballot -- despite the best efforts of the U.S. ambassador (Brown as a sometime conscience-stricken dominatrix) and Shimosato's frazzled, heavily censored SNN TV reporter to manage the news. An eager, wannabe-American teen (Toman) and his Muslim fundamentalist uncle (Holmes) add a few more plot twists.
Both the story and the production still needed work at Thursday's opening.
Some plot elements and characterizations hadn't jelled yet, the songs weren't
always well integrated into the action and there were uncharacteristic dead
spots in the usually well-honed Mime Troupe timing. Given the company's track
record, many of these problems should get ironed out in the coming weeks. But
even in what appears to be its less-than-finished state, the Mime Troupe's
"Smith" offers an upbeat, refreshingly astute alternative to the drumbeat of
official patriotism. And many a hearty belly laugh as well.