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'Too Big to Fail' presents capitalism gone awry
By: Jean Schiffman
Special to The Examiner
July 8, 2009

Into Africa: Michael Gene Sullivan and Velina Brown appear in the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s new musical satire, “Too Big To Fail.” (Courtesy photo)

SAN FRANCISCO — In its latest satirical musical, the intrepid San Francisco Mime Troupe poses this question: Who is more important, the king or the people?

“Too Big To Fail,” an unapologetically anti-capitalist comedy framed as an African folk tale, pits the “king” — and other money-­grubbing meanies and their minions — against a bunch of foolish and greedy villagers, cannibalistic fish and other metaphorical victims of megacorporations that are, yes, too big to fail.

By show’s end, the answer to the king-or-people conundrum is clear, and sure, you can guess what it is.

The troupe also offers a simple and straightforward solution to change our country’s economic downturn and set us on the ­righteous path — but you’ll have to see the show to find out what it is.

As the griot, or African storyteller, Michael Gene Sullivan (who also wrote the script) weaves a tale of human folly: When young Filije (Adrian C. Mejia) marries the tribal chief’s daughter, Jeneeba (Velina Brown), he’s not so sure her meager dowry, a goat (Lisa Hori-Garcia), is enough to begin his marriage in style.

A mysterious old woman (BW Gonzalez, gleefully evil with a Wicked Witch of the West cackle) introduces him and the other villagers to “magical” credit cards.

Clueless Filije signs a contract, and the next thing he knows, he’s turning in his goat as collateral (“Buy a whole herd of goats with no money down!”), and his first payment is due.

Only by undertaking a long, overseas quest will he be able to fight assorted money-grubbing demons (a resplendently toothy shark, an oily reptile in a zoot suit and others) and erase his debt.

Meanwhile, back in the village, Jeneeba tries to warn her neighbors of the foreclosures and bankruptcies ahead if they continue their mindlessly free-spending ways.

Under Wilma Bonet’s carefully calibrated direction, this is one of the 50-year-old company’s most tightly structured and smoothly polished shows in years.

The ensemble — including the troupe’s comical resident villain Ed Holmes in several roles — performs with buoyant energy and excellent physical and vocal skills.

Pat Moran’s songs are tuneful and pointed, and the band provides terrific African-themed music and sound effects. Especially delightful this year are Emilica S. Beahm’s dazzling and colorful costumes.

“Buying into capitalism is the working class’ curse,” warns the griot. It’s hard to disagree with that premise, the way the Mime Troupe puts it in this hilarious musical.


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