Before a teenage drummer got her hand blown up by fireworks thrown in Dolores Park last Wednesday evening, locals observed a saner Fourth of July tradition there, gathering in the sweltering sun to watch the San Francisco Mime Troupe unveil its annual free show for its 48th season. Making a Killing moves to Berkeley's Cedar Rose Park this weekend and visits Oakland and Berkeley periodically all summer.
Head writer Michael Gene Sullivan's script has everything you want from an old-school Mime Troupe show. There's a hero of the people aching to be unleashed in Corporal Emiliano Jones, a muckraking journalist recalled to army service by the Iraq war and tamed into writing feel-good puff pieces by retaliatory reassignment to Sadr City. Victor Toman nicely embodies Jones' firebrand nature while desperately pleading for it not to be sparked again. Kevin Rolston as spunky photographer Corporal Marcus Johnson makes a great sidekick, conscience, and foil for Jones, as well as his romantic interest. There are great villains to boo and hiss in Ed Holmes' snarling Dick Cheney, jockeying for power with Velina Brown's haughty Condoleezza Rice.
Striking an effective balance between rabble-rousing exposé and parody, the nefarious plot has contractors tearing down an Iraqi clinic to build a grander one (the Richard B. Cheney Enduring Freedom Cancer Clinic for Children), then demolishing that to build an even bigger one, without actually treating the skyrocketing cancer rates caused by uranium-tipped US bombs.
Pat Moran's songs help keep things snappy. Brown and Sullivan get insidiously catchy R&B numbers, Cheney a corporate rock anthem, and Condi a megalomaniacal tango. Our reluctant reporters are stuck with a couple of sappy laments, but you've got to have the obligatory ballads. The courtroom framing sequence between Lisa Hori-Garcia's bulldog prosecutor and Sullivan as the soldiers' barking commanding officer and erstwhile editor of the Daily Reveille is pretty thin, as is the shock-and-aww ending, but it's a heck of a ride along the way, with priceless tidbits about outsourcing, media lapdogs, gays in the military, the gaping void of the Internet, and The Wiz.
Last weekend in John Hinkel Park, former home of Cal Shakes back when it was the Berkeley Shakespeare Festival, Woman's Will kicked off its tenth season of all-female Shakespearean productions in area parks with Romeo and Juliet. It's the only game in town for free Shakespeare in the park this summer, as SF Shakes' show is skipping Oakland this year.
As in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's current production, this Romeo's costumes by Tammy Berlin place different generations in different eras. The kids and a few sympathetic elders run around in Elizabethan garb while the warring parents favor oversize contemporary suits and sleek modern dresses. Like the Mime Troupe's unfolding set by Jon Wai-Keung Lowe, here Jackie Scott's compact background proves surprisingly versatile as events unfold.
Turning Elizabethan all-male casting on its ear, the central concept of women playing men works well for most of the roles. The problem comes when actors are too quiet and unassuming regardless of the gender they're playing. Kristen Matia's Paris is a wallflower anyway, but Karen Anne Light as the usually fiery Tybalt comes off like Jan Brady, coming alive mainly in bursts of sharp swordplay choreographed by Carla Pantoja. Jessica Kitchens is appropriately larger than life as boisterous Mercutio, playing to the upper boughs in the absence of rafters.
The most striking element in artistic director Erin Merritt's staging is the decision to present the events that conspire to put the young lovers together for their climactic scene in the tomb as a ritualized slo-mo dumbshow. It's too bad for the apothecary but quite effective. Unfortunately, the star-crossed lovers don't have much chemistry. Their meeting is so quick amid the confusion of a dance that it's less like epic romance than a drunken hookup blown way out of proportion.
Marilet Martinez' limp, mechanical Romeo seems to be going through the motions, wooing Juliet simply because she's there. Cassie Powell makes such a charmingly rash and gushy Juliet that it's easy to believe that she suddenly thinks she's in love. You can practically see her drawing hearts around Romeo's picture in her diary. Her nurse (an amusingly garrulous Carolyn Power) explaining to Juliet what's befallen her lover winds up being the most affecting scene.
With little more weight given to the couple's love than to previous romantic interests, it's like a whole different play. You wish their parents would get over their feud not so young love can thrive but to bring their kids to their senses. The tragic end is more teenage melodrama than bitter circumstance, and the moral becomes that kids do deeply stupid things sometimes.
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