It's difficult to get worked up about the funding woes of independent theater companies when one is sitting in a beach chair on a cool but very pleasant day in Golden Gate Park, watching one of the Bay Area's most venerable independent theater companies perform a reasonably well-funded play about the funding woes of independent theater companies. Michael Gene Sullivan, who wrote and stars in the latest San Francisco Mime Troupe production, 2012 -- The Musical!, through September 25, 2011, appears to understand the irony of his relatively privileged perch, which is why his entertaining polemic, with music and lyrics by Pat Moran and Bruce Barthol, takes as many jabs at corporate fat cats as it does blinkered lefties.
2012 -- The Musical! opens with Sullivan doing a quasi-Elizabethan-era impersonation of Barack Obama, who is a character in the first of two plays within Sullivan's. Wearing a grotesque commedia dell'arte mask painted in Shepard Fairey "Hope" hues, the President is depicted as a spineless sellout to the "banksters" and other special interests, who are dressed in exaggerated red, lime, purple and orange pin-stripe suits (Emilica Sun Beahm's costumes are graphic, loud and generally effective). At one point, our fearful leader literally stabs a flannel-clad character named Workingclassman (Cory Censoprano) in the back. On any other day, the ham-fisted symbolism on stage might have seemed a bit arch, but it struck a nerve at the end of a week in which the real Obama signed a limp-wristed bill raising the nation's debt ceiling without fixing any of the underlying causes of the nation's indebtedness, prompting Standard & Poor's to lower the nation's credit rating.
Good timing on Sullivan's part, eh? Turns out, what we've just witnessed is the last scene in what may be the fictitious Theater BAM!'s penultimate performance. Led by its strident artistic director, Elaine (Lizzie Calogero), Theater BAM! refuses to accept any corporate funding, even when the source is the benign-sounding Green Planet Incorporated, personified by the seemingly beneficent Ms. Haverlock (Keiko Shimosato Carreiro).
Green Planet, Inc. executive Ms. Haverlock (Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, center) tries to convince the members of Theater BAM! (L to R, Siobhan Marie Doherty, Michael Gene Sullivan, Lizzie Calogero, Cory Censoprano) to accept the company's offer of funding.
Making the case for taking donations from Haverlock and other vegan venture capitalists are Elaine's Chanel-suited sister, Suze (Siobhan Marie Doherty), who works for a scheming investment banker named Rand (Victor Toman), and BAM!'s gloomy resident writer, Al (Sullivan). In a song called "Dirty Money," they sing about how 'you're better off not knowing where your money has been.' Good advice: The real program for 2012 -- The Musical! lists The Zellerbach Family Fund (source of wealth: dead trees) and the Bernard Osher Foundation (source of wealth: dead banks) among SFMT's sponsors.
Elaine would rather quit the company than compromise her principles, which leaves Suze and Haverlock in charge. Naturally the nature-friendly corporate sponsor has her own agenda, as does Rand, whose hand-picked candidate for president, Senator Pheaus, (Sullivan), a genially unprincipled and childishly lecherous politician, manages to get into the act, too.
Theatre BAM! Artistic Director Elaine (Lizzie Calogero) gives her audience a final 'power to the people!'
While Sullivan's script paints its pictures in broad, cartoony strokes, the actors, Sullivan included, give the caricatures shading and detail. I especially liked Toman's abject shamelessness as capitalist pig Rand, while his Mayan Priest is simply hilarious. Sullivan's Al feels surprisingly poignant, and the rivalry between sisters Suze and Elaine creates character opportunities that Doherty and Calogero routinely run with.
(L to R) Jesus (Michael Gene Sullivan), Nostradamus (Cory Censoprano) and a Mayan Priest (Victor Toman) party down in anticipation of the impending apocalypse.
If 2012 -- The Musical! has a dead zone, it's in the second play within a play, the one sponsored by Green Planet Incorporated. As fun and silly as they are, "Message from the Future" and "Party Party, Party" come off like Weird Al tracks that were never good enough to make it to iTunes. On the other hand, perhaps these musical glimpses of a purely corporate-sponsored production are supposed to make us squirm.
2012 -- The Musical! runs through September 25, 2011 at various Bay Area locations. For more information visit sfmt.org.
All photos by Fletcher Oakes.