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S.F. Mime Troupe takes good, hard laugh at ourselves
Nancy Redwine, Sentinel staff writer
September 6, 2003

In the year 2008, the only person who can save Canada from imperial invasion by the United States (‘Operation Frozen Freedom’) is Royal Canadian Mounted Policewoman Veronique Du Bois.

The United States has saved Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, France, Cuba and Venezuela from themselves, and now the biggest terrorist threat comes from our northern neighbor.

Just in time for those in need of hard laughter, the San Francisco Mime Troupe (SFMT) comes to San Lorenzo Park on Saturday and Sunday for two free performances of "Veronique of the Mounties." This political comedy is steeped in commedia dell’arte and American melodrama — about the future of George Bush’s America, where elections are fixed, police are in charge and friends are enemies.

Following last year’s "Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan," this summer’s fare is a shift from SFMT’s depiction of taking an average American character and open their eyes. With "Veronique," the perspective comes from someone who sees all Americans as the enemy.

"It gives us a chance to see how we — even those of us who disagree with the government — give it our tacit approval," said Mime Troupe writer and director Michael Sullivan.

"We think we live in the land of plenty, which we do: Plenty of thievery from other countries."

The raw materials for creating socially relevant theater never run dry, but in the past few years, SFMT has faced a challenge: Too much absurdity, too little time.

"We live with a government by fiction," Sullivan said. "Next thing you know they’ll be saying that Burkina Faso is exporting uranium-enriched coca leaves to Vancouver. They don’t even worry about whether Americans believe them or not."

So while the idea that a country like Canada could be seen as a terrorist threat is laughable, recent news has turned the script oddly prophetic.

In the early days of rehearsals for "Veronique," Condoleezza Rice visited Ottowa and threatened Canadians with cutting off trade because of a reluctance to export certain lumber products.

Recently, a special television program reported the dangers of a new strain of Canadian marijuana.

"Suddenly Canadians, who have always been seen as our simple cousins, who don’t really understand, are pot-smoking weirdoes who allow homosexuals to get married," he said.

While the play is critical of the dishonest machinations of politicians, Bush is not a character in this summer’s production ("I’m tried of writing for a sock puppet," Sullivan said), and Richard Cheney falls in love.

"We don’t want to just create characters to throw pies at," Sullivan said.

"When you demonize the people you disagree with, you forget they have human motivations like maybe their mommy treated them badly. We’re better off when we understand them as people."

Creating understanding, or at least conversation, between people who don’t necessarily agree is one of SFMT’s missions.

"Last year we played to a very Republican crowd in Indianapolis," Sullivan said.

"There were some people who agreed with what we were saying and some who didn’t, and they were often in the same family. Everyone was entertained, and it got a discussion going between different generations."

Aware that one free performance in the park is not enough, the troupe provides community theater training for local groups — like Santa Cruz’s Art and Revolution — who want to carry on the process of political foment.

"We Americans have really taken ourselves out of the information and power loop," Sullivan said. "We forget that we ARE the government."

What rabble to rouse next summer is already part of SFMT conversations, which lean towards the disappearance of the social net, especially for seniors.

"We’re in a historical period where if you can’t make money, it would be better if you died," Sullivan said.

"But then, next year’s an election year. And who knows who we’ll be at war with?"

Contact Nancy Redwine

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