Review: ‘Freedomland’ from San Francisco Mime Troupe (****)

by Barry David Horwitz
Rating: ****
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

(l-r) Lisa Hori-Garcia (Emily Militis), Michael Gene Sullivan (Malcolm Haywood), Hugo E Carbajal (Cop), Keith Arcuragi (Cop) in
(l-r) Lisa Hori-Garcia (Emily Militis), Michael Gene Sullivan (Malcolm Haywood), Hugo E Carbajal (Cop), Keith Arcuragi (Cop) in
“Freedomland.” Photo Credit: mikemelnyk.com
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

What makes a great show in the Park? Well, this ain’t the ballet or the Opera or ACT. It’s the SF Mime Troupe in its 56th Season offering Free Agit-Prop political theater all summer long.  They are still doing it—and on Independence Day Weekend, they knocked it out of Dolores Park for hundreds of happy, laughing picnikers. This goes on in parks throughout the Bay Area till Labor Day weekend. The Mime Troupe brings award-winning issue-bending comedy right to your own backyard. For free.

So, how was the show, Mrs. Lincoln? Well, it’s an American show called “Freedomland” about freedom, re-defined by comic playwright and actor Michael Gene Sullivan, honing in on 21st Century Bay Area conflicts. He takes up our struggles with police brutality, drug wars, militarization of the police, military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, poverty, gentrification, corruption, and big city politics. He pushes the hot buttons, presenting an over-the-top comic, cartoon version of daily reality from the point of view of the poor and the dispossessed. How often do we see that? We still prefer to find out secret ways into the lives of “the rich and famous,” don’t we? What happened to the “reality” in life? How did we go from “Precious” to the Kardashians?

Well, funny agit-prop street theater can help us understand what is really happening in those parts of the City that many theatergoers never visit. We can still rock out to the antics of four actors playing multiple roles, using cartoon cut-outs for scenery, and singing Ira Marlowe’s political songs. These are actors with chops. The Mime Troupe brings us the City on steroids, with broad left-wing political jokes, ridiculous police break-ins, and biting connections between Middle-Eastern Wars and War in the Mission District. Its time to enjoy the high-powered, tightly wound antics of this one of a kind revolutionary troupe. Put them on your summer picnic agenda. It’s free, it’s fun, and there ain’t nothing else like it. Bring the kids.

And the motto of this Tony-Award winning SF Mime Troupe is: “Outspoken, Never Silent.”

Here we see a phoney drug war, and a family torn apart when the grandfather, Malcolm (Michael Gene Sullivan) tries to save his nephew Lluis (George P. Scott). Lluis has come back from Afghanistan and joined the SF Police Force. But despite the help of a local girl who has become an idealistic cop, Emily Militis (Lisa Hori-Garcia), he struggles to reconcile police oppression with his love for his family in the hood. We can enjoy the clever pinochle playing cop-diverting neighbor played by Hugo E Carbajal. The play makes the link between imperialist wars and the War at Home — as the Mime Troupe has been doing since the 60s and Vietnam, Cambodia — name your wars.

The humor is broad, the music is catchy, and by the end, the audience is on their feet to the tune of “There can be no law till there’s order / There can be no peace till there’s justice.” Folks in the Park jump up from their picnics on the grass, and applaud with gusto. Folks of all ages and kinds — the old-time Bar Area audience, thrilled to see the Mime Troupe one more time. “Freedomland” never gives up. This is a new play with top commedia standards.

“Freedomland” plays for free through Labor Day at various parks throughout the entire Bay area. For a schedule of performances, click here.

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“Freedomland” by Michael Gene Sullivan, by The San Francisco Mime Troupe. Director: Andrea Snow. Scenic Designer: Keiko Shimosato Carreiro. Music/Lyrics: Ira Marlowe. Musical Director: Michael Bello. Costumes: Dorothy Martinez. Sound: Lawton Lively. Stage Manager: Karen Runk.

 Cast:

Malcolm/Cadet: Michael Gene Sullivan. Lluis/Chief Parker: Hugo E Carbajal. Emily Militis/Gladys: Lisa Hori-Garcia. Nathaniel/Snorfman: George P. Scott. Cops: Hugo E Carbajal, Keith Arcuragi.

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