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SF Mime Troupe sings 'Red State' blues
Chad Jones
July 5, 2008

pre production photo
Velina Brown and Robert Ernst play down-at-hell Kansas
folk in the San Francisco MimeTroupe's freepark show
"Red State." Photo by David Allen

One of the great rites of Bay Area summer involves heading to a park for a San Francisco Mime Troupe show. Traditionally, the troupe opens a new show on the Fourth of July in Dolores Park then spends the next few months touring the Bay Area and parts beyond, spreading their particularly Bay Area brand of liberal ideology.

Sitting in the park, waiting for the free show to begin is a show in itself as people walk through the crowd with clipboards getting signatures for this or that petition, handing out fliers for this or that labor organization. Booths are set up to promote the Green Party and to fight the man. Smaller groups that don’t have booths, set up ironing boards.

This Fourth of July, at the premiere of SF Mime Troupe’s latest opus, “Red State,” petitions were circulating to get a local sewage plant named after George W. Bush. Another group was fighting the push to charge $115 for replacement library books. Cindy Sheehan was there, so were giant dragonflies dancing over the heads of the theatergoers/revelers, and even the sun made intermittent appearances.

With the impending presidential election, this is prime time for a nearly 50-year-old lefty-loony theatrical troupe with satire on its collective mind.

Written and directed by Michael Gene Sullivan, “Red State” forgoes the big, easy targets and focuses on the little man. Specifically, the show is about the dying Kansas town of Bluebird, where the hospital, the public schools and the farms are all kaput.

It’s Election Day 2008, and by some bizarre twist, the results are tied, with only one district not reporting any results. Yes, little Bluebird – with its late-arriving ballot machine and dwindling population – holds the key to the nation’s highest office.

Though it bears a strange resemblance to “Swing Vote,” an upcoming Kevin Costner film about a regular guy who holds the deciding vote in the presidential election, “Red State” is sharp for most of its 90 minutes. There’s a dull patch in the last third, but things pick up by the end.

The real high point of the show is Pat Moran’s score. He has written some great songs about struggling Americans. In “How Much” a woman trying to sell her last few possessions sings, “What’s the use of memories when you can’t make enough to get through the day?”

And in the showstopper, Velina Brown, as Miss Rosa the librarian, sings “Leaving Town.” Soulful and with a hint of ‘50s blues, the song bemoans a country where the educated are in the minority and the priority is bombs over brains. In the end, Miss Rosa sings that she’s just another over-educated, unemployed old woman whose country doesn’t want anything she has to offer.

“Red State” lives up to its name during a fantastic fantasy sequence in which the son of a diehard union man (Robert Ernst) gets swept away by a twister and wakes up in an alternate socialist reality in which his town is thriving, health care is paid for, the pencil factory is still running and no families are living in their Oldsmobiles.

Seems this pithy scene is worthy of a show all its own, but when the man returns to the real world, his heart beats with socialist fervor as he sings the praises of “Bein’ Red.”

Also in the perky cast are Noah James Butler (whose funniest character is God-fearing Wendell, a man trying to sell a giant crucifix), Lizzie Calogero (hilarious as a creaky homeless granny), Lisa Hori-Garcia (as a dutiful mom trying to keep her family afloat while her husband fights in Afghanistan) and Adrian Mejia (as a hometown boy turned soldier just back from the Middle East).

“Red State” gets its message out there with plenty of laughs to cut the sting. As one man says: “Fighting just keeps you tired – too tired to realize you might be fighting the wrong fight.” Ouch.

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