WHEN I FIRST saw [the San Francisco Mime Troupe] in the '60s, it was like I wanted to run away and join...them," says Barclay Goldsmith, director of Tucson's Borderlands Theater. The Mime Troupe is known for its 40-year history of producing plays that, as its mission statement says, dramatize social issues in "small, close-up stories that make the audience feel the impact of political events on personal life." But, says Goldsmith, "their work is very joyous in the face of political issues and adversity. They always find what is affirming, and they're usually funny. Their entertainment values are good, too."
The Mime Troupe brings its newest, and according to the San Francisco Chronicle, "best show in years" to Tucson this Sunday. The 90-minute musical comedy, called City For Sale, "takes an underdog's view of development, its economic bias, and its often destructive impact on communities."
"We've written shows about huge subjects, like Offshore, about the global economy," says playwright Joan Holden, who had the idea for the play after becoming involved in a similar fight in her neighborhood. "This time I intentionally chose a very narrow, local issue, and now I realize I'm writing about the global economy. We had interns this summer from Italy, Hong Kong and Korea, and they all looked at this show and said, 'It's happening where I live, too.' "
City For Sale has been well received by audiences in cities of all sizes across Northern and Southern California, says Holden. "What seemed to be a very local problem translates instantly into whatever form the land rush is taking in your community," she says. "In the rural communities, it's rich retirees moving in and forcing out the people who have lived there for years." Or, in Southern Arizona, bulldozing the desert.
In addition to performing in Tucson three times before -- the last a 1994 collaboration with Borderlands Theater called Trece Dias, about the Zapatista uprising in Southern Mexico -- the Troupe has ties to local theater going back over 20 years. "I was part of a collective theater group in the '70s called Teatro Libertad," says Goldsmith, "and we brought a member of the Mime Troupe in for about three weeks to show us how to put together short plays that focus on community issues. So I [and others in local theater] have used some of the Mime Troupe's acting skills for years. They've got their legacy here in terms of performance techniques as well."
A veteran Mime Troupe playwright, Holden collaborated with her daughter, Kate Chumley, on the script of City For Sale. It's a lot like "when you hear two sisters sing, they're singing different parts but somehow their voices harmonize in a special way," says Holden. "Our passions seem to harmonize, and our styles. It works when we're writing characters of two generations. She writes very passionately about the situation of 20-somethings in a world where all the doors seem to have been shut except the door to making money."
"When they performed in the park they actually defied the city of San Francisco by presenting really progressive theater in places not known for that," says Goldsmith. Members of the Mime Troupe were arrested in the '60s for daring to do theater deemed "too bawdy" by the city in public parks, a right they later won in court with the help of the ACLU. "They opened space for other groups," says Goldsmith, "and their collective methods became a model for lots of theater groups. Their aesthetics too, are pretty sophisticated. They took the study of movement and outdoor theater and the bigness of gesture to a pretty sophisticated point, and they're always conscious of the need for training. Their [artistic] standards are high."
A story about "developers who manipulate local government and overrun neighborhoods for profit," City For Sale should play well in Tucson.