In a season marking the Summer of Love’s 40th anniversary, there’s one still-alive-and-kicking countercultural force even older: the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which has had no lack of targets for its lefty political satire since the “turbulent ’60s” stopped roiling. Needless to say, the Bush administration is as much a satirist’s dream as a progressive’s nightmare. The troupe’s 48th annual free summer show, which tours West Coast locales into the fall, is almost a bad-acid flashback: The shady White House dealings and bottomless pit of Iraq in “Making a Killing” practically scream “another Vietnam.”
Juggling numerous issues with verve, script by Michael Gene Sullivan (with Jon Brooks) cuts between Baghdad and D.C., adding TV news flashes and other digressions when they fit. Framing device has Cpl. Emiliano Jones (Victor Toman) in a military courtroom charged with the murder of fellow soldier — and his lover — Marcus Johnson (Kevin Rolston). As he vigorously denies guilt, flashbacks detail what actually happened.
Jones works as a Army-newspaper reporter and is charged by his superior (Sullivan) with creating “happy news” stories that put a good face on the crumbling U.S. efforts to re-construct Iraq.
He and local translator Mahjuh (Lisa Hori-Garcia) get a new photog in fresh-from-journalism-school Marcus, who had a one night stand with Jones when the latter was a visiting Midwest university lecturer. Back then, Jones preached the virtues of dogged investigative reporting and holding the truth sacred. But Jones now does mere puff pieces, as ordered. The last time he wrote an expose that angered superiors, he promptly found himself assigned to a hot spot he was lucky to survive.
Meanwhile, Dick Cheney (Ed Holmes) slithers from his “undisclosed location” — a trap door with hellfire painted on it — to discover he’s grown so unpopular even longtime corporate cronies are distancing themselves. “Every time you open your mouth, our numbers go down” snaps competitive Condoleeza Rice (Velina Brown).
Seizing on anything that will win back public support, Cheney decides to attach his name to the Enduring Freedom Cancer Clinic for Children, currently being built in a remote Iraqi village. Drunk on his newfound popularity, he keeps ordering construction efforts torn down to commence even more grandiose building plans.
Meanwhile, the “lucky” local beneficiaries of this American charity have almost no existing medical resources — in a region that’s seen cancer rates skyrocket since the Gulf War.
Marcus and Mahjuh are all for investigating that epidemic’s cause –which turns out to be another American “legacy” of prior warfare, a la Agent Orange in Vietnam. Jones resists before finally relenting. But telling the truth has consequences.
Mime Troupe shows are typically refined on the road almost as much as in rehearsal, so the slightly awkward structure and flatter musical moments here will no doubt improve. But this is already a solid offering with plenty of laughs, making points that in most other contexts wouldn’t be funny. War profiteering, government propaganda, military homophobia, Fox-style “news” and much more are precisely skewered.
Though Pat Moran’s songs are sometimes forgettable, the show’s strongest voices knock two comic highlights out of the park: Brown is hilarious as USO diva Fantasy O’Doul, who sings/raps a crassly “patriotic” proclamation that “It’s my duty/to shake this booty.” Sullivan (who co-directed with Ellen Callas) soul-shouts a funky ode to the fact-lite, poll-friendly “Feel Good Story.”
Seven thesps play myriad roles with esprit; fast-paced prod is marked by the usual SFMT resourcefulness in low-tech design.