It sounds all too familiar -- the public quakes in terror of attacks by barbaric outsiders, and the men in power exploit that fear to conquer foreign lands and gain control of their natural resources. Only this time it's 1886, and Crawford Gulch is under imminent threat by the neighboring Comanche -- or so the little Texan town is told.
It's the same as it ever was, says Michael Gene Sullivan, writer of the San Francisco Mime Troupe's latest play, Showdown at Crawford Gulch, which opened last weekend in San Francisco's Dolores Park and will be shown free in parks throughout the Bay Area all summer. "In our show, a happy little panhandle community comes apparently under attack by the Comanche," he explains, "and while everyone is scrambling to not have their patriotism questioned by questioning war, the wealthiest person in town is slowly taking pieces of the town from everybody while they're distracted by the dumb show of terror. Meanwhile, you find out that the whole reason for the war is the natural resources that the Comanche have, the main natural resource of the West, which at that point was just a bubbling liquid underground -- water."
Sullivan says it's easy to find historical parallels for the invasion of Iraq, because US invasions have always purported to defend us from the barbarians at the gate -- and to be for said barbarians' own good. "This is not a new American idea in how we view other cultures," he ventures. "This isn't something that just popped up with Bush. This was planted in the ground by the European culture that came over, this idea that if someone is weaker than you are, that somehow gives you the right to what they have because you're going to use it better than they are."
To say that not everyone agrees on that interpretation of US foreign policy is putting it mildly, but that's where the Mime Troupe has excelled in getting its point across for about 45 years now -- the comedy and rousing music are a big part of it, but so is choosing analogies with pinpoint precision. "The expansion into the West, into the Kiowa and Comanche and Apache lands, that's something that's so much a part of American folklore that everyone will go, 'Ah yes, I always knew that was bad,'" he says. "And here are the similarities ..."
Bush's open-ended War on Terror is a subject the theatrical collective has tackled in different ways in its last two shows, Veronique of the Mounties and Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan, but this show approaches it somewhat differently. "Normally our shows are about indicting a particular group in the ruling class, but this show is more about indicting the audience," Sullivan explains. "We cannot abdicate responsibility for the leadership of the country, whoever that happens to be. You can't just say, 'That's not my president.' Or 'Well, I really don't think the election was fair, but on the other hand I can still get a cheap cappuccino.' People need to demand a full and fair democracy, and everyone who didn't vote should just shut up and sit down." With any luck, while you're sitting you just might learn something.
Showdown at Crawford Gulch plays July 10-11 at Cedar Rose Park, Berkeley; July 29-29 at Lakeside Park and July 31 at Moosewood Park, Oakland; and parks in Berkeley, Montclair, and Walnut Creek in August. For more details, visit SFMT.org or call 415-285-1717.
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