Devout theater patrons and lefties who celebrate every July 4 at Dolores Park to see the 60-year-old San Francisco Mime Troupe’s latest original musical political satire found something different this year.
But all is not lost.
The always cleverly inventive Troupe is cycling a nine-part series of half-hour-long radio-play podcasts, umbrella-titled “Tales of the Resistance,” on its website biweekly (also broadcasting on various radio stations).
Each installment is written and performed in a different style — noir, sci-fi, horror and adventure—and all are voiced by members of the Mime Troupe’s longtime ensemble, with all of the narratives, the Troupe promises, to somehow converge at the end of the summer.
The first in the series, “The Mystery of the Missing Worker” by Michael Gene Sullivan — with music by Daniel Savio, directed by Velina Brown, hilarious faux-commercials by Marie Cartier — premiered on Independence Day.
Presented as a detective-noir, “Missing Worker” features a central character, Jade (played by Sullivan in full Sam Spade vocal style), who seems at first to be a low-rent detective. He’s off on a quest investigating the disappearance of a former employee of the soulless monolithic corporation Jamazon, who apparently had been fired for trying to organize the workers.
Or so confides nervous-nelly Jamazon employee Greg (Andre Amorotico), in a hushed whisper.
Jade himself, snooping around while Black, is constantly being queried. “Can I help you?” asks a cop, suspiciously. “Well, I thought, I could use a hand overthrowing the police state and the institutional racism of our criminal justice system …” says Jade. “Did I say that out loud?” he suddenly wonders—out loud, of course.
The play, in its skewering of America’s social ills—racism, corporate greed, the plight of the working class—is so funny, and so well acted by the Troupe, including longtime ensemble members Brown, Keiko Shimosato-Carreiro and Brian Rivera , that it comes to life even without visuals and minus the appreciative laughter of a sun-soaked audience. The second half of “The Mystery of the Missing Worker” airs Aug. 29. Visit https://www.sfmt.org/talesoftheresistance.
Amid the plethora of staged readings on Zoom, solo shows on Facebook, streamed interviews with artists, radio drama and comedy and other methods for local theaters to connect to their audiences, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and a cohort of regional theaters around the country joined forces for a different approach, called Play At Home. They commissioned prominent playwrights to write very, very short plays (it takes about four minutes to read most of them) to be available to the theater-starved masses in the form of scripts.
The plays are divided into categories. “Plays for Grownups,” which at last count offered 42 plays, offers “Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” by Lloyd Suh, who wrote the engaging drama “The Chinese Lady,” which premiered at the Magic Theatre last season. In it, a couple argues. One wants to order a fancy “thing” online; the other protests. “We’re too clumsy,” he says, to handle such a thing. The whole world is built to break because of our “epic human clumsiness,” he explains, and he doesn’t want to be reminded of that. The sweet, funny and a tad unsettling play is commissioned by Long Wharf Theatre.
Also commissioned by Long Wharf, “The Proxy” is a mysterious little scenario by Lauren Yee, a much-admired playwright, originally from San Francisco, whose work, the wonderful “King of the Yees” has been seen locally. Conceived as a radio play, it’s narrated by “Voice,” who speaks to “You.” “You” is/are heading off on a plane trip to attend the birthday celebration of an elderly relative. But there’s a clever little twist.
Berkeley Rep commissioned San Francisco playwright Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. In his “A Bunch of Scientists on Spring Break,” a group of scientists get soused and chill in a way that pokes gentle fun at those brainiacs among us who are committed to saving the world through science.
Berkeley Rep also commissioned Julia Cho, whose award-winning “Aubergine” and “The Language Archive,” have been staged locally. Her “You” is a witty metatheatrical solo with a melancholy undertone that captures the essence of these lonely, socially distanced times.
Two other notable mini-plays: “Better Maybe” by Caridad Svich is a sort of do-it-yourself gestalt, a prayer, a rousing anthem for locked-down times; and “The Impossible Play” by Diana Oh, is similar to Cho’s in that it’s a metatheatrial solo comprising instructions on how to perform for an audience of one — yourself. It ends with a song that includes the apropos lyrics “There’s nothing and too much to do.” Visit playathome.org.
Meanwhile, Remote Theater continues its Zoom readings, most recently with “Summer Briefs,” four short plays, with two solos and two two-handers. Three are by Billy Aronson, who’s famous for conceptualizing and collaborating on the rock opera “Rent.” The most successful of the four is “Complete Unknowns,” scarcely a half-hour long but potent.
In it, a theater director (the esteemed Ellen McLaughlin, the original Angel in “Angels in America” who has performed in the Bay Area on various occasions) welcomes an odd and eccentric woman (an intriguing and almost entirely silent performance by Ellen Mareneck), who arrives with a script she’s written that she hopes to have produced. As the director gently critiques the script, she gradually becomes more and more emotionally involved with it, and with the would-be playwright herself, who, under local actor James Carpenter’s strong direction, expresses herself wordlessly but with physicalized eloquence. What starts out as a typical theater-insider skit, lightly comic, slowly becomes a curious, unsentimental little piece in which the two women, each in her own world, somehow connect. Visit https://bit.ly/2NVUcqz.