It has become a 4th of July tradition for me to see the inaugural show of the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s season. What could be better than celebrating a holiday that commemorates revolution than by seeing the work of a collective dedicated to speaking truth to power, and also to shaking up not just the status quo, but their audience as well. This year’s offering is Rotimi Agbabiaka’s SEEING RED: A TIME TRAVELING MUSICAL in which Bob, a gender-fluid woman who is also a Trump supporter finds herself transported from an election in the present (sort of) to elections past. Two, to be precise, the first of which in 1912 boasted the candidacy of Eugene Debs, a progressive Socialist who led a political movement that came very close to taking root in these United States. The second election in 1918 examines the right-wing reaction to Debs’ success, and a political climate not dissimilar to the contemporary one. The Troupe, though, doesn’t preach to its choir, though, never has and never will. For all the expected characters of minorities and radical thinkers carefully negotiating a society that can turn on them in an instant, with sometimes fatal results, there is the unexpected, like an immigrant bar owner that, like Bob, thinks Trump is the answer to America’s ills, and a blithely superficial “progressive” with blinders on that everyone can see but her,
This being the Mime Troupe, though, the sharp political commentary comes in the form of catchy show tunes and comedy, both broad and subtle, with dashes of high drama as Bob discovers history that isn’t taught in books, and has her paradigm changed forever.
Nigerian-born Agbabiaka has a unique personal perspective on the current political climate here, and it’s something we discussed when we spoke on August 2, 2018. He’s also a man with one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard. When we met at the SF landmark coffee house, Muddy Waters, the conversation covered much. You can listen to it here, and read a fuller summary. I wanted to excerpt something he said in response to a question that I am asking a lot of artists these days, “What’s the role and responsibility of art in the Age of Trump?”