Producing a play about racism in the summer of 2015 might seem a risky proposition, but risk-averse has never been an adjective applied to the long body of work of the Tony Award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe.
Continuing SFMT’s tradition of opening new shows on Independence Day weekend in Dolores Park, “Freedomland” tells of Malcolm, an ex-Black Panther, who is trying hard to keep his grandson, a recently returned Afghanistan vet, safe from the race and drug war at home.
“Oh, and it’s a musical,” says playwright and actor Michael Gene Sullivan, referring to the score by Ira Marlowe.
“Some Mime Troupe shows have been more comedic than others,” he says. “It’s easy to do a farce about some things. Normally we highlight the contradictions and underline the hypocrisy, but we’re not making fun of the issue or, ever, of the victims.”
The goal is to bring the audiences’ experiences into focus in a new and thought provoking way. “Sometimes a person may not have ever put all the pieces together, right up and against each other, and realized, ‘This is ridiculous!’” says Sullivan.
With “Freedomland,” Sullivan was writing what he considers a more serious farce. “I couldn’t push the comedy,” he says, noting that the production has to be entertaining enough to hold people’s attention in parks around the Bay Area (where it tours througout the summer before finishing back in Dolores Park on Labor Day).
“It has to be engaging, but it also has to give full view to the circumstance and its seriousness. The people who have experienced these situations have to be able to see their story reflected on stage and not feel mocked,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan, who is playing Malcolm, can count himself in that group. He’s been pulled over, stopped or questioned by police numerous times – once while sitting in his parked car outside his apartment – for no reason other than skin color: “They made a mistake entering my license plate and thought my car was stolen.”
Even after proving ownership and residence, he was still taken in for questioning.
His hope for is for audiences to take away a real-time sense of the absurdity of these situations.
“Usually we hear another tragic story or some feel-good story about someone falsely imprisoned who is finally released. It’s all after the fact. We don’t get to see it happening. So what I wanted to do is show the ridiculousness of life in a world where you are constantly viewed as the offender,” he says.
IF YOU GO
Presented by San Francisco Mime Troupe
Where: Dolores Park, 19th and Dolores streets, S.F.
When: 2 p.m. July 3-5 and Sept. 6-7
Tickets: Free; donations requested
Contact: (415) 285-1717, www.sfmt.org
Other select local Mime Troupe shows:
2 p.m. July 11-12: Live Oak Park, Shattuck Avenue and Berryman Street, Berkeley
7 p.m. July 15 and 4 p.m. Aug. 23: Mitchell Park, South Field, 600 E. Meadow Drive, Palo Alto
2 p.m. July 18-19: Cedar Rose Park, 1300 Rose St., Berkeley
7 p.m. July 22-23: Lakeside Park, Edoff Memorial Band Stand, Oakland
2 p.m. July 25: Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, McLaren Park, S.F.
2 p.m. July 26: Washington Square Park, Columbus Avenue and Union Street, S.F.
7 p.m. July 30: Troupe Studio Space, 855 Treat Ave., S.F. (reservations required: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1586995)
2 p.m. Aug. 2: Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission and Third streets, S.F.
2 p.m. Aug. 22: Glen Park, Bosworth Street and O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, S.F.
6:30 p.m. Sept. 2: Bay View Opera House plaza, 4705 Third St., S.F.
2 p.m. Sept. 5: Golden Gate Park, Peacock Meadow, JFK Drive and Peacock Meadow, S.F.