Sometimes I hate being right. Last year I predicted that the San Francisco Mime Troupe would end up creating a whole Greek-style tetralogy around Dubya, and lo and behold, so it has. "Call it The Bushiad," I joked, but here it is, time for the annual Mime Troupe show, and the sacred clowns have gone four for four. Not that having yet another installment is a problem -- with its spaghetti Western conceit, Showdown in Crawford Gulch is probably the most charming of the box set -- it's just a shame that the Bush machine keeps cranking out so much material to lampoon. At least this time Ed Holmes doesn't get stuck playing dour old Dick Cheney, and he looks pretty relieved about that; he's downright gleeful as the shady mayor of Crawford Gulch.
In the "West's best intentional community," the people of Crawford Gulch -- poor whites, emancipated blacks, and hardworking Comanche -- have peacefully coexisted for many years. That is, until two newcomers arrive -- the daughter of the town's newspaper publisher, and a "fancy-pants Easterner" with the sinister moniker Cyrus T. Bogspavin. It seems that on the way to Crawford Gulch, their coach was ambushed by Comanche, and Bogspavin (Amos Glick) wastes no time fanning the flames of paranoia under the little town until neighbors are turned against each other and seeing imaginary threats in every tree. Fears of "homeopathological Injun warfare" and "arrows of mass destruction" abound, but what's really going on?
Newly minted Crawford Gazette editor Constance Adams (Velina Brown) gets caught up in the fear, and under pressure from Bogspavin and the mayor ends up printing things she doesn't realize are untrue. As in 2002's Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan, the Mime Troupe is examining the role of the media in furthering a war agenda, but this time it's being a little more evenhanded. Where Obscuristan's journalists were one-dimensional ninnies, Adams really does want to do the right thing.
Last year, Brown got to play the twins-separated-at-birth paired roles as Condoleezza Rice and her American-hating cousin Veronique of the Mounties. This year, Michael Gene Sullivan plays both the peace-loving sheriff Frank Kanem and the mysterious, gun-toting Rider of the Sage. While he's exactly what you expect in a mysterious hero, Sullivan is particularly adorable as the sheriff with a big unrequited crush on Adams. Demoralized because she prefers a masked enigma to a man whose knees go to jelly at the mere thought of violence, he plaintively sings, "She won't even call me Frank."
Although the satire is still pointed, the direct references to current events are a little more subtle, such as a mention of "that Stewart woman that ran that crooked bake shop." Adams' star reporter Nellie has a running gag about interrogation techniques ("We're going to need some high heels and a dog collar"), and we learn of the establishment of an Office of Home Range Security. Meanwhile, Jason Sherbundy has thrown in all sorts of clever musical cues and gags (as well as building a nifty crank-driven wind machine to capture that spooky Ennio Morricone wind-across-the-plains effect), and the dancing is a little more elaborate than in years past. The Troupe even gets in a dig at its own name when Clem says, "The whole town was quieter than one o' them French mimes."
While the set is neither as elaborate nor as goofy as it's been the past few years, it works well to create a sense of the rawboned town. In fact, the whole production is a lot slimmer than the other three shows of the Bushiad, making it easier to follow what's going on. Or maybe it's just that so little of this is a surprise anymore. We've had a few years to absorb the core messages: media coverage can't be trusted; the war isn't about liberation, but profits; Bush wasn't really elected; and so forth and so on. As Holmes freely admits during the postperformance audience shakedown, Mime Troupe audiences are the choir. But this year the preaching is funnier and subtler, yet just as on-target as in years past.
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