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‘Blockbuster Season’ riffs on disaster flicks

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Christopher White, left, and Joe Estlack are convincing in “Blockbuster Season,” a multimedia show by Mugwumpin and Intersection for the Arts. (Courtesy Pak Han)

With two mutable characters and one cameraperson who tracks them, Mugwumpin’s multimedia “Blockbuster Season” is an intriguing, funny and at times confusingly disjointed devised-theater piece.

Created by company cofounder/artistic director Christopher W. White and Joe Estlack and director Susannah Martin, it explores–through video, movement and gesture, sound effects and text–the clichés and tropes that surround the notion of natural disasters such as volcanoes, earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and so on.

How Hollywood exploits catastrophe; how TV newscasters and even disaster victims themselves can manipulate us; the fatuous ways that politicians respond; the mindless interpersonal conflicts that erupt under pressure — all that is explored, mostly abstractly, in a series of scenes linked mainly by the actors’ adept, in fact quite striking, physicality (choreography by Natalie Greene).

They move through various calamities, at times slowly and silently, at other times hysterically and ragefully. Here they’re shell-shocked, surveying their destroyed homes (represented by chunks of wood); there they’re seen as a politician rehearsing an inspirational speech with his coach; in one particularly visually arresting scene, they clutch each other, fighting a mighty wind so convincingly that you barely realize there is no offstage fan.

Throughout, a cameraperson (Melusina Gomez) is filming them; their images are projected in slightly delayed real time on the upstage wall (video design by Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky). At one point, she tells her own personal story of disaster.

The troupe makes good use of opportunities for satire, spoofing the melodramatic soundtracks of blockbuster movies (excellent sound design by Theodore J.H. Hulsker), the pervasive platitudes of pundits, the endless cycle of faux-reassuring sound bites.

Mugwumpin’s goal here is to promote the idea that ordinary, non-heroic citizens can help each other — not an earth-shaking concept, but certainly important.

The program lists the creators’ many inspirational sources for the humor and the gravity of their material, including speeches by public figures from Douglas MacArthur to George W. Bush, the 2013 movie “Pacific Rim,” Susan Sontag’s “The Imagination of Disaster” and more. The idea that we could, theoretically, all count on each other, doesn’t come into focus as well as it could, though, amid the various bits and pieces that comprise the piece.

What’s most impressive is the actors’ ability to create so many visual images, comical and dramatic, of human reaction to disaster using just their bodies and a few simple props.

REVIEW
Blockbuster Season
Presented by Mugwumpin with Intersection for the Arts
Where: Intersection for the Arts, 925 Mission St., S.F
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays; closes Oct. 18
Tickets: $25 to $35
Contact: (415) 626-2787, www.mugwumpin.org

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