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Mime Troupe Lambastes the 1 Percent — and the Rest

San Francisco Mime Troupe, not as barbed and acerbic as it was, still draws laughs from over-the-top melodrama.

The San Francisco Mime Troupe has been performing free shows for just over half a century.

It may be starting to show its age.

“For the Greater Good, or The Last Election, a Melodrama of Farcical Proportions,” might win a prize for longest title but is unlikely to harvest awards for anything else.

Has the troupe, which blossomed in the ‘60s, lost its edge? Perhaps.

Its previous barbed, acerbic quality apparently dissipated when Dick Chaney and George W. Bush stopped being targets.

That’s a shame.

Have the non-silent lampooners turned from biting humor to slight satire a la “Glee”? Perhaps.

That, too, is cause for regret.

They still draw laughs through over-the-top melodrama, at least from intrepid fans, but even devotees are apt to find the technique a tad stale.

The problem may stem from the Mimers trying to be — instead of hardline leftist radicals — even-handed (or, to lift a spurious Fox News slogan, “fair and balanced”).

In this musical comedy, the cast castigates not only capitalists (camouflaged as an oppressed 1 percent) but it lambastes the 99 percent as well (pinpointing welfare recipients and the jobless as well as socialists, occupiers and the naïve).

When the 90-minute show recently played on the lawn of the Mill Valley Community Center, where nearby amateurs propelled a soccer ball throughout the performance, theatergoers cloaked to ward off an evening summer chill munched on gourmet salads and cheeses, dips and roasted chicken.

The affluent Marin County audience of 209, give or take, occasionally shouted approval and clapped at allusions to credit unions, the 99 percent and the occupy movement, and booed references to Mitt Romney’s possible election and Michelle Bachmann being one of the “best minds of our time.”

But it failed to flaunt the fury of outdoor followers in San Francisco’s Dolores Park or any of several Berkeley parks.

And it displayed virtually no reaction to bait such as “There are some things more important than decent and fair in this world — the free market.” Or to wannabe gag lines such as “This country has enough wealth for everyone — as long as we don’t try to share it.”

None of the troupers’ half dozen songs seemed to connect either.

Mill Valley simply may be too tame, too civilized a venue.

Only Green Party stalwart Laura Wells handed out flyers, as opposed to countless proselytizers distributing political vilifications at most other sites where the mimics perform.

Michael Gene Sullivan, who’s been with the troupe since 1988 and wrote this year’s play, also directed “For the Greater Good…” He extorted stellar performances despite his nondescript script, chiefly from Ed Holmes as financial finagler Gideon Bloodgood and Lisa Hori-Garcia as his pampered daughter Alida (and her revolutionary alter ego, Tanya).

Most of the cast did significant double- or triple-role duty, aided by quick changes of costumes designed by Blake More and intentionally unnatural wigs.

Stagecraft by Toman, Ben Flax and Maurice Beesley was delightfully conspicuous, particularly in sequences that simulate a deadly blaze and a rising angel.

Pat Moran, a veteran Mimer, turned out a bland score, lyrics and musical direction that when best felt borrowed from “The Perils of Pauline” or a Buster Keaton short.

Choreography, by Victor Toman, was severely limited to a few movements by a small stage.

Although “For the Greater Good…” is based on a 19th century melodrama, “The Poor of New York,” the storyline’s been upended and updated to 1987 and 2012. Its intent, clearly, was to skewer the billionaires and banking barons who’ve bought elections and fleeced the public while lining their own pockets.

Had it limited its targets to those specific bandits, instead of acting like a Gatling gun, it might have found a more receptive crowd.

Even in Mill Valley.

For a complete listing of upcoming San Francisco Mime Troupe performances of “For the Greater Good, or The Last Election” through Sept. 9, go to www.sfmt.org or call (415) 285-1717

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