S.F. Mime Troupe’s Triumphant Return: Song, Dance, Truth
by K. Marguerite Caronna
Sometimes it’s not all just happening in your mind.
Often, murky social policies lurk behind our deep distress—and the S.F. Mime Troupe alerts us to hidden injustices. For over 64 years, the Mime Troupe has served as San Francisco’s political consciousness through free theater in the park. According to Director Michael Gene Sullivan, the Troupe embodies the highest form of citizenship.
For recent emigres to the Bay, the tradition of free Mime Troupe shows in parks all over Northern California hearkens back to 1959. The original creators devised shows of entertaining, yet driving political satire performed free of charge in public parks.
What a concept. They hew to the original meaning of the word “Mime,’ not necessarily silent white faced performers in a phone booth. Merriam Webster defines “mime” as “an ancient dramatic entertainment representing scenes from life usually in a ridiculous manner.”
The Mime Troupe is anything but voiceless, and the political jabs anything but ridiculous. The show is an exuberant and satirical examination of current politics. And the lively Fox broadcaster Marcia Stone (Jamella Cross) makes a great villain—spouting false anti-S.F. propaganda.
In “Breakdown,” Yume (Kina Kantor), an unhoused person in need of mental health services, seeks help from a bureaucracy as complex and devoid of compassion as a Rubik’s cube. Her plight is worsened by indifference and hostility. Only the social services rep, Saidia (Alicia M. P. Nelson) tries to help—by offering Yume food and hope.
Saidia even offers to help scheming Felix (Jed Parsario) because she sees the unhoused as people. Saidia sings her “Life of Service” song: “Take one day at a time, one breath, then another.” She helps Yume realize that the demon in her nightmares is the bureaucracy which took her baby, causing her nightmares and craziness.
Yume begs a tourist: “See me, let me know you don’t want me to die.”
We see Yume’s predicament on the street every day in any city. Her journey toward wholeness is universal and poignant. Bob Dylan tells us that “everything is broken” and Yume’s journey reveals a system utterly irreparable.
But Director Sullivan allows hope to reign. He mixes humor with song, exposing the raw realities behind “the lack of activism and unionism.” Instead, folks blame the people of the Tenderloin. It’s odd how many people blame the victims.
But there is unity and family in the Tenderloin, as Mr. Stereos (Andre Amarotico) states in one of his funny Greek proverbs: “A crow does not take the eye out of another crow”— meaning that neighbors don’t hurt neighbors.
It is not all downbeat. Framed by witty musical numbers performed by the talented Troupe, the story unfolds with discomfiting and funny satire.
With the onslaught of insults to Bay Area culture—tech invasion, gentrification, and the pandemic, it is reassuring that that the S.F. Mime Troupe’s long-standing tradition reemerges as gloriously irreverent, never irrelevant.
The Mime Troupe IS the Bay Area! How fortunate that it has survived. Pack your picnic and enjoy the fun and songs in a park near you.
“Breakdown” by Michael Gene Sullivan & Marie Cartier, music & lyrics by Daniel Savio, directed by Michael Gene Sullivan, costume design by Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, scenic design by Carlos Aceves, by The San Francisco Mime Troupe. Info: SFMT.org – to September 4, 2023 – at a Park near You.
Cast: Andre Amarotico, Jamella Cross, Alicia M. P. Nelson, Jed Pasario, Kina Kantor, and Taylor Gonzalez.
SFMT Band: Breakfast, Guinevere Q , and Jason Young.
Banner photo: Jamella Cross (Marcia Stone). Photo by Adam Chin
For the S.F. Mime Troupe’s summer schedule, visit sfmt.org or call 415-285-1717.