Theater review: Mime Troupe revisits America's socialist days
By: Sam Hurwitt
August 22, 2018 / UPDATED: August 24, 2018
It’s always dangerous not to know your history, not least because there are always going to be forces that want to take advantage of that ignorance. “Seeing Red,” the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s latest free show touring Bay Area parks, offers a case in point: A lot of people don’t know that there was once a robust socialist movement in the United States, and that it was hardly limited to liberal urban centers on the coast. Even what are now accepted as the reddest of red states were once replete with a completely different kind of “Reds.”
Now in its 59th season, the Mime Troupe doesn’t do the kind of silent pantomime that people often think of when they hear the word “mime.” It’s a political theater collective that creates a new satirical musical comedy every year to call attention to sociopolitical wrongs that need righting.
Coming to Mill Valley Community Center on Aug. 29, near the end of its run, “Seeing Red” is the first Mime Troupe play written by frequent performer and collective member Rotimi Agbabiaka, with some help from SFMT veteran Joan Holden, the group’s resident playwright for 30 years, in her first work with the Troupe since the turn of the millennium.
It’s a fanciful time travel story about an embittered Trump voter in Union, Ohio sent back in time to 1912 to discover the vibrant labor movement that called her town home before World War I.
Military veteran and out-of-work steelworker Bob (bellicose and bewildered Lisa Hori-Garcia) isn’t right wing in any particularly ideological sense. She’s just angry. She voted for Trump out of spite at the system that she feels has cheated her at every turn, and everything he’s done has only made life even worse for the working class. “I’m sticking with him because he’s sticking it to all y’all,” Bob sings in her belligerent number “Take That!”
A mysterious stranger in curiously old-fashioned clothes walks into the bar where she’s drowning her sorrows, and next thing she knows she’s in the same bar in a different era, with a different proprietor and a different vibe, where she learns about ways to direct her class resentment at the people who profit from keeping her down, instead of voting to make them even richer and herself even poorer.
Andre Amarotico plays both the fiery labor agitator who brought Bob back in time and a menacing habitué of Wobbly meetings who’s almost certainly an informer. There’s something slightly sinister about his mysterious stranger Joe, too, both in his zeal that dismisses voting as a useless placebo for action and in his tight-lipped manipulation, but he may be intended to be more clearly benevolent.
Michael Gene Sullivan does double duty as the hilariously blithe Trumpite immigrant bar owner Bubba and as a wary early 20th century African American worker who wants to stand up for workers’ rights, but is used to finding himself unwelcome in the labor movement in his native South because of his ethnicity. Keiko Shimosato Carreiro breezes in as a tone-deaf middle class San Franciscan liberal with car trouble, and appears again as the tough-as-nails Chinese immigrant bar owner who hosts the labor meetings.
With this sharp cast of mostly seasoned long-time Troupers (Amarotico being the only newcomer), director Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe gives the comedy a brisk, high-energy staging. To accentuate the time-travel theme, Carlos Aceves’ terrific set depicts what looks like wooden podiums (but are probably walls) warping circularly around a distorted clock.
Ira Marlowe’s songs are a delightfully catchy and eclectic mix, from funk and ragtime to stirring anthems, all deftly played by the three-piece band directed by Michael Bello with Daniel Savio, that also provides musical sound effects.
Just one hour with no intermission, it’s a rollicking show that offers a faint ray of hope in a troubled time. It serves as a welcome reminder that the realm of political possibility in this country hasn’t always been as limited as we’ve been led to believe it is today, and that there’s no reason it has to be.View Original Article
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