On Aug 25 the San Francisco Mime Troupe will perform their new musical, Treasure Island, in La Plaza Park in Cotati. This will be the first time the troupe has performed in Cotati in the 60 years it has been performing free political theater throughout the Bay Area and Northern California parks.
The troupe creates and performs a different show every year and this year is sure not to disappoint. The subject of the musical is the development of Treasure Island, California by unscrupulous developers. Using the classic novel Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson as inspiration, the show depicts the story of Hawkins, a civil servant in San Francisco, who accidentally stumbles upon the plans of a developer, L.J. Silver. Through bribery and brutality Silver overrides all health, safety, and human concerns regarding developing Treasure Island for his own greed.
“It’s loosely based on the novel but the pirates are corporate housing developers,” says Lawrence Helman, Publicist for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. “It takes place around Treasure Island which is a man-made island between San Francisco and the East Bay which was made for the World’s Fair in 1939. Afterwards it became a naval base and has become a toxic waste dump. Now they’re building ‘affordable housing’ on it and it hasn’t been tested properly. Officials have been lying about the level of toxicity and nuclear waste on the island. [The play] has a lot of metaphors. It has the whole treasure island theme with pirates but this time the pirates are the evil developers who are lying to make a profit.”
The performance will be a family-friendly event. While children may not understand all of the underlying political concepts, they will appreciate and be captivated by the action and drama on-stage.
“A lot of times people bring their young kids and for some it’s their first exposure to live theater,” says Helman. “They may not understand all the politics but it’s done in the commedia dell’arte style which has buffoonery, lots of sound effects, and there’s a sword fight onstage so there is a lot to watch. It’s very colorful and there are trap doors and people coming in and out. People go out one door and they come back as a different character. It’s a great way to expose children and new audiences to live theater, some of which have never seen a live show before.”
Despite the name “mime troupe,” the show is anything but silent, with actors talking and singing. The group uses the term “mime” in its classical and original definition, “the exaggeration of daily life in story and song.” It is a form of popular theater that has been around throughout the world since ancient Greek and Roman times, through the Renaissance, and into today.
Their political satire comically uses archetypes to illustrate people’s issues in current times.
“There is a lot of confusion with the word “mime,” whose root word is mimic,” says Helman. “There are songs and dance and words, but people get it confused with the Marcel Marceau version of mime. But that’s just one form of mime. The mime troupe has been around so long and has won a regional Tony Award and numerous OBIE awards that at this point they’re too famous to change the name.”
The play will run through Sept. 8 in various locations including San Francisco, the East Bay, Palo Alto, Foster City, Davis, Sacramento, Nevada City, Santa Cruz, San Jose and Ukiah. All park shows are free and open to the public with donations strongly encouraged, as most of their funding comes from audience members. Merchandise will also be for sale at the event. In Cotati the performance will take place at 2 p.m. with a music set starting at 1:3 p.m. Audience members are invited to bring picnics and low-back chairs.