Right time for ‘Red State’
July 7, 2008
SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Mime Troupe has been producing original plays on national themes for nearly five decades, but its new production, "Red State," is especially timely.
With the November elections fast approaching, this satirical comedy, which opened at The City’s Dolores Park on July 4, makes the award-winning company’s brand of political theater seem more essential than ever.
Written and directed by Michael Gene Sullivan, the 90-minute show never mentions a candidate by name. But it delves deeply — and hilariously — into current political issues from the point of view of a fictional small town.
Bluebird, Kan., is just a spot on the map, but the country’s troubles are concentrated there: the economy has tanked, so there’s no money for schools, hospitals, libraries or street repair.
While the town’s young men are overseas fighting a war, their jobs have disappeared — the local pencil factory is closing its doors and moving to Uzbekistan, where labor is cheap and regulations are nonexistent. People are selling their family heirlooms and living in cars.
"The only thing keeping me here," says one, "is the cost of gasoline."
It’s the kind of place politicians like to ignore, until Election Day puts Bluebird at the center of a small firestorm. Due to a voting machine malfunction, none of the town’s votes were counted. Now the presidential election is tied, and Bluebird will cast the deciding vote.
Sullivan has a keen ear for small-town talk, political platitudes and the endlessly lame ways the media like to spin the issues ("Anna Nicole Smith," screams one talking head, "who would she have voted for?"), and the writer-director keeps ramping up the stakes all the way to the end.
At one point, in a nod to "The Wizard of Oz," he introduces a tornado that drops several characters into a rosy utopian fantasia.
A six-person cast, playing multiple roles, brings the characters indelibly to life. Velina Brown is the standout in a triple turn as Miss Rosa, the local librarian; Faustina Page, the political operative with ambitions for a top D.C. post; and Muffy Von Braun, a brainless TV reporter.
Robert Ernst is strong as Eugene, the town conservative who fears that any government handout amounts to socialism. Adrian C. Mejia is energetic as Tommy, a solider just returning from the Middle East; Lisa Hori-Garcia is endearing as his sweet-tempered sister, Doris.
Lizzie Calogero and Noah James Butler round out the cast capably in various roles. Pat Moran’s musical score — a terrific mélange of original songs, instrumental interludes and sound effects — is played live by Moran, Joel Fadness and Kevin McHugh.
At Friday’s opening, everything came together brilliantly. Sullivan combines red and blue, truth and unreality, political commentary and incisive wit, with the skill of a master chef. The results are delicious. "Red State" is ideal election year fare — sharp and funny, with just enough bite.