Arts Listings

SF Mime Troupe Brings ‘Red State’ to East Bay Parks

By Ken Bullock Special to the Planet
Thursday July 10, 2008 - 09:53:00 AM

“It’s a punishment from the Lord!” 

“I thought it was because they cut off that subsidy.” 


The citizens of Bluebird, Kan., a beleaguered little town in the middle of the country, suddenly find themselves the center of national attention. The Electoral College has deadlocked, and when it is revealed that Bluebird’s votes got stuck in the machine, the neglected burg is instantly a-swarm with the media and visiting officialdom, looking to repair whatever damage to Bluebirdian self-esteem—so the poor hicks will just get on with it and recast their errant votes. 

But helped along by a returning war hero, who’s been asking what he’s been fighting for, anyway, the gaggles of self-interested groups and individuals threaten to get together and demand some sort of return for their tax dollars and their suddenly precious votes. “We ain’t got nothin’—and we sure could use somethin’!” 

Meanwhile, there are some who are suspicious: “I tell you, it ain’t right. They’re fixin’ the sidewalk. I bet that’s the way Stalin started—and the next thing, all the women get hairy!” 

All this with pratfalls, much fanfare and song, as the San Francisco Mime Troupe takes to the parks for their annual summertime political free-for-all (and the admission is also free, “a price everyone can afford”), Red State, which will commence its on-and-off run in East Bay parks this weekend and continue though August. 

“Do you think Jesus broke the voting machines? Communists? Aliens?” A lot of the glib silliness isn’t so silly if you scratch the surface of the running jokes about the state of the nation.  

The Troupe displays its roots in agit-prop with routines like a funny mechanical tango and vamp around a Vot-a-tron 3000, screwdriver clamped in teeth like a technocratic gaucho and with songs and statements like: “Fightin’ makes you strong!” “No; fightin’ just makes you tired” or: “There’s nothin’ UnAmerican about fixin’ what was wrong” while the band (lyrics and music by Pat Moran, who also announces and leads the musical trio) shuffles, accompanies and walks along, playing campy soundtrack riffs, the Internationale, Nortena dances or just shit-kicker tunes, mixing it all up. 

Even so, the play’s more story-driven, a little less “bitty” than many Mime Troupe outings. Written and directed by Michael Gene Sullivan, not acting in this show, it features other Collective members as actors. Velina Brown is the government’s Miss Page, offered the post of Undersecretary of Regional Oversight and singing “I’ve been waiting all my life for an opportunity/To have an office all my own in Washington, D. C.,” only to be interrupted by her cellphone. There are also faces from outside the collective: Lizzie Calogero as reporter Cliff Windswept, Noah James Butler (familiar from TheatreFirst productions) and Robert Ernst, cofounder of the Blake St. Hawkeyes, a fine utility man for any show. 

Playing a spectrum of roles, they all build it up to the climactic moment. Will Bluebird get it together and insist on its place in the sun? Meanwhile, the Troupers keep pumping out those tunes in an election year: “The government don’t give a damn/About the working man.” 



Presented by the San Francisco Mime Troupe. 

• 2 p.m. Saturday, July 12 at Oakland’s Mosswood Park (MacArthur and Broadway). 

• 7 p.m. Wednesday, July 16, at Montclair Ball Field (music at 6:30 p.m.). 

• 2 p.m. July 19-20, at Berkeley’s Cedar Rose Park (music starts at 1:30 p.m.). 

• 2 p.m. Aug. 2-3 at Willard/Ho Chi Minh Park, with an ASL interpreter present ( music starts at 1:30 p.m. ). 

• 2 p.m. Aug. 23-24 at Live Oak Park ( music starts at 1:30 p.m.).