“Imagine a nation where religious fervor runs hot, and faith rhetoric runs hotter.” If you feel your imagination is running behind the headlines, hie you to the outdoors—a park, say, Live Oak this weekend, or Willard on the 26th or 27th—and see those headlines in the flesh but with the faith rhetoric standing on its head, as the San Francisco Mime Troupe girds up for battle with powers and principalities by putting on an act entitled Godfellas.
The Troupe’s concocted a simple parable of “shy civics teachers” gone hog wild with controversy over religion in the schools, a certain Reverend C. B. De Love (Michael Gene Sullivan) who’s pushing for “an all powerful, omniscient and omnipresent military-industrial God complex,” and The Syndicate behind it all, its diabolical agents including a punitive nun in drag (Victor Toman) and the rappin’ Gangstas for God—then scrambled up this simple lesson into a bunch of over-the-top, schtick-y scenes that feature the quick-change, impersonation-conscious talents of the Troupe’s tight ensemble.
There’s lots of singing and dancing too—and the music (a swinging group led by Pat Moran) starts a half hour before the “curtain” goes up at 2 o’clock—as pedagogical Ms. Angela Franklin (Velina Brown) “finds herself” when, under pressure to bow to a bit more than equal time for godly fundamentals in the classroom, she stands up straight as Homo erectus and declares, “Kiss my black heinie!”
From there through all its addled foolery, it’s really a straight shot to stardom for Angela. Pretty soon she has the call-ins of all colors on Larry King (Keiko Shimosago) Live, et al (and each magnificently impersonated, often ’cross gender lines), erupting in her very words over the phone lines and airwaves, à la Peter Finch in Network, whatever color their heinie may be.
Just at the point where a happy—and lucrative—end seems in sight, a romantic rapprochement looms between Citizen Angela and her wallflower opposite number on the faculty, Mr. (Todd) Blendikin (Christian Cagigal), who’s just foresworn fundamentalism (at a religious re-education camp, “They took away my copy of ‘Branded in The Name of Jesus’—and I really saw the light!”), and the triumph of her Citizens for A God-Free America is imminent in the ratings, dogma lifts up its hoary head as Angela contemplates becoming the apostle of an orthodox anti-religion, one that countenances no heresy—a semi-apostasy that tickles Rev. De Love and the Syndicate no end.
The show’s a quick-change blitz of scenes (designed by Paul Garber) and costumes (and caricatures) by an accomplished cast, chanting and hoofing their way through such numbers as “Rock The Lord” (“Put the Fun back in Fundamentalism!”)—with The Dominionettes, or Mr. Blendikin’s number, “Whatever Happened to Jesus?” (“’Cause he’s gone, he’s gone/The Prince of Peace ... Try Guantanamo Bay!”), appearing one moment as a gospel chorus in Choir robes jiving with cowboys of various hues in matching goldenrod dusters, the next as a cigar-chomping rabbi with ratty sidelocks putting on the Edward G. Robinson squeeze, with a Day-Glo mitred bishop for back-up muscle. The show’s studded with Tom Paine quotes, too—like, “One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests”—and in fact it is the apparition of the author of “Common Sense” (Keiko Shimosago again, “But why are you dressed like a doorman?”), accompanied by randy Founding Father Thomas Jefferson (again, Victor Toman) cruising a black female teacher (before running off to check out Hillary and Diane ... “These are the times that try men’s souls,” indeed)—that brings Citizen Angela around ... she’s Born Again! “We can’t use their tactics to out-religion them!”—and Paine agrees, prophetically: “The greatest tyranny is always perpetrated in the name of the noblest causes.”
But yet another cliffhanger—the nun in drag with enormous ruler poised twists meek Mr. Blendikin’s arm: “You better get that dame back on message or else!” Will togetherness end the separation of church and state?
A Morality Play? A Miracle Play? A Pageant to Diversity and Tolerance? A very animated political cartoon? A not-so-silent movie melodrama played live in daylight? It’s all the Mime Troupe’s own blend—and a completely collaborative one—of frantic fun and ideological tagging—and a sunny summer day in the park.
Photograph: Amos Glick, Keiko Shimosato, Michael Carriero, Lisa Hori-Garcia, Velina Brown, Christian Cagigal, Victor Toman, Michael Sullivan take many roles in “Godfellas.”