'Schooled' is Mime Troupe's lesson for today
by Lily Janiak
July 5, 2016
In “Schooled,” the San Francisco Mime Troupe argues that the purpose of education is to build citizens, to prepare young adults to make informed decisions in their civic life. The company’s free summer show of its 57th season also makes a compelling case that art is foundational to a healthy democracy.
As is tradition, the troupe will stage this show in parks throughout Northern California until Labor Day, so the context of each performance will vary greatly. But as performed in Dolores Park on the Fourth of July, “Schooled” juxtaposed stark extremes.
The Mime Troupe is run as a Democratic Socialist collective, and all its shows impart that same philosophy. “Schooled” is no different. It pillories the flaws in the U.S. education system, especially its dependency on digital technology as a Band-Aid for deeper structural problems — underfunding, the achievement gap — and, in tandem, its overreliance on the corporations that profit from that technology.
In “Schooled,” the evil corporation is Learning Academy of Virtual Achievement, or LAVA, which seeks to “spread” to Eleanor Roosevelt High School. LAVA’s emissary is Fredersen J. Babbit (Lisa Hori-Garcia), a dead ringer for Donald Trump, complete with the hair and mucus-ridden vocal cords. He peddles learning tablets, cleverly rendered by the props department with an iridescent surface, so that as an actor rotates one, its screen shimmers in the sun.
At his side is Tatianna, played by Keiko Shimosato Carreiro in one of the show’s best comic performances. She is the cavalier Natasha to Babbit’s inept Boris, wielding her exaggerated Russian accent as if it were a Cossack’s saber. The set for all this bravado is, if anything, even less than bare bones; while actors perform a bit on one side of the tiny stage, a stagehand might be fixing a door that’s lost a screw on the other.
It can feel dissonant to see this show performed in Dolores Park, whose most notorious denizens of recent years, tech bros, tend to embrace capitalism and corporations as panacea for all social ills. At the Monday performance, right next to the crowd of Mime Troupe devotees sprawled another, separate crowd of oblivious or uninterested young people, as has been common at Mime Troupe Independence Day performances in recent years.
At times, lack of interest in “Schooled” is understandable, despite the skill of the four-person ensemble (Rotimi Agbabiaka and Velina Brown, in addition to Carreiro and Hori-Garcia) in creating broad physical comedy that’s legible to distant onlookers, and despite the fun sound effects supplied by the live three-person band.
Much of the script, by Michael Gene Sullivan (who also directs) and Eugenie Chan, dithers or pontificates, especially in the show’s second half. Characters’ changes of heart toward the left are foregone conclusions, yet the playwrights report each with step-by-step care.