S.F. Mime Troupe visits with irreverent, sharp-edged political satire

By From page A9 | July 30, 2013

The San Francisco Mime Troupe will make its annual summer visit to Davis to give a free performance at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, in Community Park. The double feature will look at the environmental crisis as well as dubious deeds committed by elected officials, secret government agents and giant corporations. Courtesy photo

The San Francisco Mime Troupe — still uppity after more than 50 years — will make its annual summer visit to Davis to give a free performance at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 10, in Community Park. Donations will be accepted. For information, visit www.sfmt.org.

Famous for staging politically oriented “street theater” — with an activist slant — the troupe plans a double bill this year titled “Oil and Water,” featuring a loosely linked pair of short plays by Pat Moran and Adolfo Meijia that involve (you guessed it) a dangerous environmental crisis, dubious deeds committed by elected officials and secret government spooks, and giant corporations whose financial and political tentacles extend all the way into the Oval Office.

The play “Deal with the Devil” begins with the discovery of a dead body in the White House, and the characters include a presidential aide, a shadowy Secret Service agent, a sinister senator and a sputtering chairman of the Federal Reserve.

The story — told with a tip of the hat to classic film noir and 1970s-style cop shows — is a cautionary tale about what happens when the government has entirely sold out to fossil fuel corporations.

The other play, “Crude Intentions,” concerns two women who run a gourmet restaurant in San Francisco, whose lives are upset when a visitor from the past appears to collect on an unfulfilled obligation. The play was inspired by the ongoing legal struggles between Chevron and plaintiffs who were awarded a large financial settlement relating to environmental devastation in the Ecuador.

The show features a cast of four — Mime Troupe regulars Velina Brown and Lisa Hori-Garcia, actor Rotimi Agbabiaka (who appeared in the group’s 2010 show) and “first-time trouper” Hugo E. Carbajal, accompanied by musicians Ahron Wheels Bolsta and Pat Moran.

It’s a somewhat leaner cast than the troupe has toured with in recent years; usually, there are six actors and three musicians. But some anticipated grant money for the Mime Troupe did not come through, and this year’s tour was put together with the help of a last-minute fundraising appeal.

First-timers should know in advance that the San Francisco Mime Troupe does not do silent pantomime, a la the late Marcel Marceau. “We mean ‘mime’ in the ancient sense: to mimic,” the troupe explains on its website. “We talk, we sing, we make a lot of noise. We are satirists, seeking to make you laugh at the absurdities of contemporary life, and at the same time, see their causes.”

The San Francisco Mime Troupe dates back to 1959. The group began doing experimental performances, but soon evolved into a more politically oriented form — often modern adaptations based on the traditional Italian commedia dell’arte, which featured stock characters wearing masks in outrageous comedy that frequently made fun of the rich and powerful.

Before long, the San Francisco Mime Troupe began staging pointed satires by the likes of Bertolt Brecht and Dario Fo; in fact, the Mime Troupe claims to be the first American theater company to have staged Fo’s work, long before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Along the way, the troupe has received several Obie (Off-Broadway) Awards, a Tony Award and other accolades. In 1999, the year the troupe marked its 40th anniversary, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared Dec. 6 “San Francisco Mime Troupe Day.” And in 2009 — its 50th anniversary — the group received a special certificate of recognition from the state of California.

There is a Davis connection as well. The Special Collections Department at the UC Davis Library contains a San Francisco Mime Troupe archive — 88 linear feet of documents and related material, focusing in particular on the troupe’s activities during the 1960s and 1970s.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.

Jeff Hudson

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