SF Mime Troupe Smells Like Old, Wet Hippies
Benji Holmann, for the San Francisco Spectrum
Thousands of bed-wetting liberals with big agendas crowded in to San Francisco's Dolores Park for the Annual Fourth of July season opening of the incredible San Francisco Mime Troupe. This is the 44th season of free shows in the parks for everyone although "leftist pinko commies" who smell like "old, wet hippies" are some of the most devoted fans. The show plays all summer and a full schedule can be seen at www.sfmt.org.
The SF Mime Troupe uses every trick in the book to woo and captivate the hearts and minds of the audience while explaining why the United States is at war with Canada to save them "from the vice-like grip of democracy". The enlightening, fast-paced production uses clever props, brilliant costuming and witty songs to maximize the soap-opera twists in this action-adventure gender-bending subversive play to expose the hypocrisies of the U.S. Administration - "One Nation-Corporation under God". The bittersweet tour de camp would be even better if it were all a fantasy but the ironies of our current political landscape is stranger than fiction. Ed Holmes stunningly portrays US Vice President Dick Cheney and even laments about US President Bush Junior "That man almost lost an election that was fixed". In his pitch for donations after the show (checks are welcome) he confessed that he would be happy not to play Cheney any more "I've been doing Cheney for years so I'm open to a change".
Clever props, including igloos, cars (for the chase scene) and bombs are woven from today's news to enliven the twisted tale of Operation Frozen Freedom. "Set in the near future, Veronique of the Mounties, finds the US government deeply engaged in its imperialistic quest to save the people of the world from themselves." States the troupe. "After bringing "democracy" to Iraq, Syria, and France, the US turns its gaze to the terrorist threat on its northern border, Canada. Fiction follows fiction until only one thing can protect America (and launch the Cheney/Rice run for the White House in 2008), Operation Frozen Freedom." Our passive television news experience comes to life as characters such as BS-NBC news reporter Buffy Stern, perkily portrayed by Bekka Fink, leap out of the TV set to show why you might not always be getting the whole story from embedded reporters in a war. Flying fish, bombs and even a golden maple leaf make an appearance. The mute button is used throughout the show.
All the characters in this production speak voice to our common threads of humanity while comically scene-switching, weaving ironies and positioning Canada as the "biggest threat since Satan" - "Berkeley is next". In fact, the brilliant costuming was emboldened by the heroines Veronique Du Bois, staunchly portrayed by Velina Brown, in her Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman uniform ala Janey Do-Right and an undercover librarian/bartender Dorothea Whitman. Dorothea Whitman, played flawlessly by Keiko Shimosato, confessed in an exclusive interview that the shoes "look like their from a Virginia Slims ad", they are Italian made "Shoe Bizz" vintage salmon-pink patent-leather pumps that any librarian/bartender would be proud to wear. Each character throughout the production, most actors portrayed a handful of roles, had been wonderfully workshopped and costumed to journey the audience through the warped reality to ponder " Why would America turn away from its own economic and social problems and attack the peace-loving hockey fans in the north? (and) Who benefits from a constant war on terror?" And it's a great musical too!
The show is interspersed with witty and touching songs ironically thrusting us into each character's mindset. Dick Cheney's sidekick and clandestine love interest is (Dr.) Condoleezza Rice (US National Security Advisor) captivatingly portrayed by Velina Brown. Cheney woos Rice by plotting to use President Bush Junior as the patsy for all that is wrong while they position themselves for the US Presidency - "Cheney-Rice 2008" he teases into her ear - she gushes. They quickly break into song & dance about Superior People, one of the many of Bruce Barthol's treats spicing up the production. "Superior people are the hope of the world - who knows what's best for those who are not similar-ly blessed."
"Meanwhile, as the Canadians mobilize to fight off invasion, Veronique Du Bois is given a dangerous mission: to journey into the heart of American darkness and recover the object that may stop the US military's insane rush to the Great White North. " Aided by Dorothea's amazing shoes and her librarian tomb of "225 years of knowledge" of librarians everywhere that was amassed once the Attorney General started book burning, Veronique, travels to Teddy Roosevelt's face/hideout with Dorothea representing LATE-FEE - Librarians Against The Establishment of Federally Funded Eavesdropping. The two encounter a former Vietnam vet Harry along the way at Big Ed's Alcohol Hut who laments that "if I had gone AWOL (absent without leave) and done some coke I'd be in the Whitehouse", and even armed evangelicals embracing the end of civilization twist into the plot.
On par with "Springtime For Hitler" has to be "God's Little Warriors" delivered by the disturbingly convincing Michael Carreiro as Reverend Teuful and his gun-toting children Little Luke and Little Judith played by Christian Cagigal & Bekka Fink. They are headed for the Lambs of Jesus Small Arms Jamboree and welcome the rapture that will happen only when "all hope is gone". "Have you lost all hope children?" he asks. "Yes Daddy!" they chirp back. The anthem and ensuing gymnastics have to be seen to be believed.
Espionage takes place in super secret agent Zeke of the Junior HSS - Homeland Security Services, expertly dashed out and portrayed by the zippy Conrad Cimarra. Zeke is a young idealist Canadian with an unfortunate infatuation with seeing Celine Dion in tight leather pants and is hired by Veronique who hates lazy Americans hooked on "Crispy Cremes and crack" to infiltrate America despite the "ultra-violet alert". An alert so alarming it is "unseen by the naked eye". In another showstopper Zeke belts out that he is "…on the team. I'm a team player, morning and night I'm an enemy slayer!"
Confused yet? Soon the well-paced show has us questioning if "a country with a maple leaf as a flag (can) truly be a terrorist threat? And what has Canada got that's more valuable than oil? Children of all ages will be uplifted and empowered and this is how the SF Mime Troupe has made our world a better place. By encouraging us to be citizens and not just consumers. The July 4th opening was blessed by Sister Cindy Vine, Sister Dana Van Iquity and Sister Kitty Catalyst who used the opportunity to encourage the crowd to make it cool to vote. They also delivered a blessing to the four winds including "My love is beautiful!" in honor of the recent US Supreme Court's Sodomy decision overturning Sodomy laws which have been used to discriminate against queer people for decades.
When I spoke with Velina Brown she shared how the activism and care for the world was a joy to be able to incorporate into her work. "It's really nice when you feel strongly about what your putting out in the world." She said, "I enjoy how much we collaborate. We can take what pisses us off, what concerns us in the world and use that as an actor."
You'll have to see the show yourself to see where it ends up but I can assure you you'll not only enjoy the campy costuming, clever props and dream it - believe it set - the live band also makes for a great event. Remember your picnic basket, sunscreen, water, blanket and friends. The shows runs about an hour and half with the fantastic live band playing up to an hour before the start.
Veronique of the Mounties is free (donations totally welcome & well-deserved) and appropriate for children of all ages. By Michael Gene Sullivan and Bruce Barthol. Music by Jason Sherbundy. Directed by Sullivan. Through Sept. 1. San Francisco Mime Troupe in various Bay Area parks. Full schedule can be found at www.sfmt.org or call 415-285-1717.