Mime Troupe Goes Borges
By: Mark Rabine
July 5, 2010
The San Francisco Mime Troupe opened its 51st season in Dolores Park
this weekend, and once more the ghosts returned. "I seen this one 20
times," said Ripped Van Winkle. "Never tire of it." I tell him this
is a new play, the first time it's been performed. "Cool," he says
before drifting off again.
Rip can be forgiven for thinking he's seen this show before. The
Troupe's 2010 offering, "Posibilidad, or Death of the Worker," harks
back to the Troupe's days of Socialist Realism, as workers are called
upon to throw off the chains of false consciousness and realize they
don't need their capitalist bosses.
In "Posibilidad," workers who sew labels on organic hemp clothes made
in China accidentally occupy their factory after the owners announce
the work will be shipped overseas. It turns out one of the workers
took part in the Popular Assembly movement that erupted without
warning out of Argentina's sudden and near-total political-economic
collapse in 2001. One of the movement's tactics was to occupy and run
factories that the owner had abandoned or was selling off piece by piece.
What starts off with energy and wit goes south when the action moves
to Argentina. Despite the biggest laughs in the show, the Argentina
segments drag, and they pull the whole play down. The music, which
can usually be counted on to save a show, stumbles badly, slowing the
action even more. What promises intrigue delivers ambiguity, and what
U.S. workers are supposed learn from their Argentine counterparts is
never clear, as the hemp weavers have occupied their workplace by the
time they hear about the Argentine experience.
The play pits melodramatic soap operas and highly contentious soccer
games against the real-life drama of social struggle. Unfortunately,
the soap operas and soccer games are far more entertaining. For
example, we are taken through a series of worker collective meetings
that, although highly stylized, nonetheless reflect the tedium that
drains such experiments. True, but good political points sometimes
make lousy art.
It was something of a surprise to see the Troupe revert to its old
style after the success it had last year with a more open, playful
and metaphorical genre. Where "Too Big To Fail" seemed to release the
actors, taking advantage of their natural talents and proclivities,
"Posibilidad" ties them in knots. Maybe it's just a matter of working
with the script more, because the actors seemed oddly out of touch
with what was happening on stage, let alone in Argentina; more
concerned with their Spanish accent than what they were actually
saying (of course, that might be considered an Argentine trait).
The Popular Assembly movement in Argentina was initially a
revolutionary carnival that released an enormous amount of social
energy among workers, but especially among the unemployed and
working-class youth. Through a variety of actions, they put the
question of power in Argentina, its distribution and prerogatives, on
the table for a short time. The energy of that moment propelled the
worker occupations in Argentina, but it's that energy that was
conspicuously missing in Dolores Park.
"Posibilidad" has possibilities, but the Troupe would profit from a
deeper understanding of the Argentine social explosion of 2001 and
its aftermath. More important (this is theater, after all), the
members of the Troupe have to enjoy themselves, or pretend they do.
Living in the Mission, we may be better off than most in the country,
but even here we feel the effects of long-term unemployment and the
slashing of public services. It's nothing to laugh about.
Which is why we are counting on the Mime Troupe to get it together
and leave us laughing. Let go. Have some fun. Things are bad enough
without a dreary, wandering performance that can only wring a cynical
smile from a blind, dead and politically conservative Argentine poet.
Workers take over in Mime Troupe show
By: Jean Schiffman
July 7, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO The San Francisco Mime Troupe knows whereof it speaks
in creating a play about worker-owned businesses the troupe itself
has been soldiering along as a collective since 1970.
Of course, a worker-owned theater is not the same as a worker-owned
garment factory or textile mill, the two businesses depicted in this
summer's serious-minded spoof an impassioned declaration, by one
character, to the effect that workers in fact love their sewing
machines is a bit hyperbolic.
In "Posibilidad, or Death of the Worker," which opened last weekend
at Dolores Park in The City, factory owner Ernesto (a hilariously
simpering Rotimi Agbabiaka) decides to close Peaceweavers, which
manufactures "New Age urban hempwear," and reopen it in Tibet, where
he can pay workers 62 cents an hour.
"It's the global economy, and the sooner we all accept it the
better," Ernesto says.
Suddenly unemployed are two seamstresses and a pressman, Joe, who's
been with the company for 30 years.
A fourth worker (Brian M. Rivera) is rehired as Ernesto's security
guard when it looks like the workers, incited by Joe, are about to
stage a protest.
It turns out that one of the seamstresses, the pregnant Sofia (Lisa
Hori-Garcia), has been through all this before, back home. Workers in
Posibilidad, a barrio in Buenos Aires, took over the mill when it was
about to close, with tragic but ultimately triumphant results.
(Apparently, some of this is based on true stories.)
Inspired, the Dreamweavers crew agrees that they know how to do
everything in the factory except get paid too much and steal from the workers.
Writer Michael Gene Sullivan (who portrays Joe, with deep feeling)
interweaves the tales of these two worker-seized factories, with
Sofia as the central figure in both.
A connecting theme is the Spanish-language soap opera that the
American workers watch on their breaks. It's elegantly actualized by
Maggie Mason and Agbabiaka, who tango their way through a comically
star-crossed romance decked out in Emilica Sun Beahm's colorful costumes.
Wilma Bonet directs with a sure hand; music director Pat Moran
provides the original, Latin-infused songs and score; and the cast,
which includes the dynamic Velina Brown, excels in multiple roles.
If the troupe's thesis is an earnest oversimplification of a complex
economic problem, "Posibilidad" is nevertheless pointed and funny,
right down to the rousing finale: "This is our struggle, this is our time!"
Theater review: Mimes show 'Posibilidad' aplenty
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Posibilidad: Agitprop musical drama. By Michael Gene Sullivan. Songs
by Pat Moran. Directed by Wilma Bonet. With Lisa Hori-Garcia, Brian
Rivera, Velina Brown et al. Through Sept. 19. San Francisco Mime
Troupe in Bay Area parks. One hour, 25 minutes. (415) 285-1717. www.sfmit.org.
North American workers can learn a lot from their South American
counterparts about taking over factories. So says the San Francisco
Mime Troupe, and it's offering two object lessons - rolled into one -
to illustrate its point.
"Posibilidad," the company's annual free summer musical, opened
Sunday before a large crowd at a traditional Independence Day with
the Mime Troupe in Dolores Park. The new show provides multiple
opportunities to cheer the workers and boo the outsourcing
conglomerates and greedy bankers in an agitprop melodrama that takes
on the issues of downsizing.
It wouldn't be a Mime Troupe show if it weren't funny as well as
politically engaged, and funny about being politically engaged.
Michael Gene Sullivan's script and composer Pat Moran's lyrics are
packed with satiric zingers about everything from the New Age
approach to firing ("I am releasing you to find your bliss") to where
to find jobs ("Guarding empty buildings is one of the fastest-growing
jobs in America").
But it isn't an upbeat show. Though it has its standard happy ending
- a bit forced but heartwarming - "Posibilidad, or Death of the
Worker" hasn't yet found its balance between the serious plight of
the workers in its California and Argentine story lines and the
bright humor of its wide-ranging social satire.
Sullivan's juggling of the stories is awkward at times, as he
alternates between the closing Peaceweavers New Age Urban Hempwear
plant in this state and an abandoned textile mill in the Posibilidad
barrio of Buenos Aires. Director Wilma Bonet lets the action go slack
at times, particularly in intercut scenes between the workers'
attempts to run the plants as collectives.
But the play's ambition is as impressive as its range, hitting topics
as diverse as telenovelas, smarmy eco-marketing, soccer loyalties and
the tango. Bonet lights up the stage with some of the Mime Troupe's
sharpest choreography in years to Moran's bright tunes. And the cast,
led by an appealing Lisa Hori-Garcia - as the immigrant Sofia who
ties the stories together - excels in many quick-change parts.
Brian M. Rivera is as brash a Marxist Argentine lover as he is
sweetly shy as a Filipino with a crush on Sofia. Velina Brown anchors
the show as an awakening Californian and a militant, avid soccer mom.
Sullivan delivers an illuminating portrait of labor shortsightedness,
while the versatile Rotimi Agbabiaka and Maggie Mason depict
diversely villainous capitalists and telenovela lovers.
The message comes through loud and clear in a provocative
juxtaposition of different forms of workers' ownership. If
"Posibilidad" hasn't yet realized its possibilities, it's already a
bold and entertaining attempt.
San Francisco Mime Troupe schedule
Shows are free except those with a Web address or phone number for
Sat., 2 p.m.: Glen Park, San Francisco
Sun., 2 p.m.: Golden Gate Park, Peacock Meadow, San Francisco
July 14, 7 p.m.: Mill Valley Community Center, Mill Valley
July 15, 7 p.m.: Montclair Ball Field, Oakland
July 17-18, 2 p.m.: Cedar Rose Park, Berkeley
July 21, 7 p.m.: Veterans Memorial Park, Napa
July 24-25, 2 p.m.: Willard Park, Berkeley
July 28, 7 p.m.: Todd Grove Park, Ukiah
Aug. 4-5, 7 p.m.: Lakeside Park, Oakland
Aug. 7-8, 3 p.m.: San Lorenzo Park, Santa Cruz
Aug. 14-15, 2 p.m.: Live Oak Park, Berkeley
Aug. 21, 2 p.m.: Washington Square Park, San Francisco
Aug. 22, 2 p.m.: Yerba Buena Gardens, San Francisco
Aug. 25, 6:30 p.m.: Civic Center Plaza, Richmond
Aug. 27, 7 p.m.: Mitchell Park, Palo Alto
Aug. 28, 4 p.m.: Mitchell Park, Palo Alto
Aug. 29, 2 p.m.: Mosswood Park, Oakland
Sept. 2, 7:30 p.m.: Sebastiani Theater, Sonoma, (707) 996-9756
Sept. 4-6, 2 p.m.: Dolores Park, San Francisco
Sept. 15, 7 p.m.: Chabot College Performing Arts Center, Hayward
Sept. 17, 8 p.m.: Marines Memorial Theatre, San Francisco,
Sept. 19, 7 p.m.: Analy High School, Sebastopol, www.brownpapertickets.com
E-mail Robert Hurwitt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Theater review: The revolution's at hand in Mime Troupe's 'Posibilidad'
JUST AS IT does every Fourth of July at San Francisco's Dolores Park,
last weekend the San Francisco Mime Troupe unveiled its latest
political satire, which the company will perform for free in Bay Area
parks all summer. Now in its 51st year, the troupe has been a
collective for 40 years, and this year's musical deals directly with
the politics of collectivization.
Inspired by actual stories of factory takeovers by workers scheduled
to be laid off en masse when their workplaces are shut down,
"Posibilidad, or the Death of the Worker" tells not one but two such
stories, one at a feel-good, eco-friendly Northern California
clothing company and the other at a textile mill in Argentina.
The common thread is Sofia (Lisa Hori-Garcia), a pregnant garment
worker at Peaceweavers, the recently rebranded Jenkins Clothing
factory now specializing in "New Age urban hemp wear." When her
touchy-feely, aphorism-spouting boss Ernesto Jenkins (Rotimi
Agbabiaka) decides to move the factory to Tibet to cut costs, she and
the other workers wind up occupying the factory almost accidentally.
Sofia has a sudden fit of pain, flails around and falls to the floor.
She insists it's not labor pains, but it's never clear what the fits
are about. Regardless, it turns into an impromptu sit-down strike,
and the workers drive Ernesto out and occupy the factory. Sofia tells
the story of a similar occupation she was part of in the Posibilidad
barrio in her native Buenos Aires. From then on, we go back and forth
between the two stories until the textiles hit the fan.
Although Nina Ball's compact set of a brick-walled factory interior
doesn't change from one location to another, there's never any danger
of losing track of where we are. Between Michael Gene Sullivan's
entertaining script and the cast's deft performances, the characters
are distinct and memorable throughout. The actors continually
quick-change between Emilica Sun Beahm's bright costumes to reenter
as somebody else in former troupe member Wilma Bonet's sharp staging.
Bonet and the cast clearly know the ropes and go at the production
like a well-oiled machine.
The show opens with a marvelous tango choreographed by Bonet, with
retro-snazzy couples in color-coordinated dresses and suits. One
couple becomes the anguished lovers in the telenovela Sofia and her
coworkers watch obsessively during lunch breaks. Curmudgeonly
old-timer Joe (Sullivan) tries to get them to wake up and organize
because a wave of layoffs is coming, but nobody listens at first.
Agbabiaka is hilarious as the unctuous Ernesto, who tries to convince
laid-off workers he's doing them a favor by releasing them to find
their bliss. Maggie Mason does villainous double duty as Ms. Gachs,
the downsizing corporate suit from Jenkins Clothing International,
and as the fiendish Argentine mill owner El Patron, who skips town
with all the money and leaves the mill to collapse behind him. Brian
M. Rivera is charming as Manny, the shy Filipino security guard, and
Indelecio, Sofia's strapping, too-good-to-be-true lover back in Argentina.
Velina Brown is a force to be reckoned with as Sofia's Mama Claudia,
who leads the worker revolt in Posibilidad but keeps getting
sidetracked into squabbles with Indelecio over the rival soccer teams
they support. (The lovers have to convince her they're just sneaking
off for sex, not to root for his team.) Brown also plays the
no-nonsense Donella, who argues with Joe over the changes he wants to
implement, with Sofia in the middle as the swing vote. Will
Peaceweavers follow the example of worker-run factories in Latin
America and strike up alliances with other collectives, or will it be
a collective in name only, beholden to the same banks, stockholders
and multinational corporations as before?
Pat Moran's songs take on an appropriately Latin flavor for this
show, notwithstanding Ernest's amusing reggae ditty about "balancing
my chi with the needs of shareholders" or Joe's defeatist gospel
number about settling for small victories. The folky anthem "Esta es
Nuestra Lucha" isn't quite as stirring as intended, the harmonies a
bit tentative around Brown's fiery lead.
It's a lot of story to pack into 90 minutes. The mostly satisfying
resolution feels rushed, but it's a lot of fun getting there, and the
audience has a great time hissing the capitalists and cheering the
workers. Actionable information is available onsite if you're
inspired to support your local worker-owned collectives, and
"Posibilidad" demonstrates yet again that the Mime Troupe is one well
Contact Sam Hurwitt at email@example.com