SF Mime Troupe’s ‘Seeing Red’ is political yet lighthearted musical

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The color referenced in the title of “Seeing Red” subverts expectations and refers not only to the Republican party but also to the Socialist party. In 1912, a Socialist candidate won six percent of the popular vote in the U.S. presidential election. San Francisco Mime Troupe takes the plot of its show back to that time.

“Seeing Red” is a time-traveling musical that chronicles a Donald Trump voter changing her mind about her support for him and the Republican party. It is put on by the San Francisco Mime Troupe, which annually produces political musicals, always performed for free in parks in the Bay Area. The performances run through August 12, with the last one located at Willard Park in Berkeley. These productions are written, directed and acted by members of the troupe. “Seeing Red” was directed by Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe, written by Rotimi Agbabiaka and Joan Holden, and features music and lyrics by Ira Marlowe.

The play is focused entirely on the political topics being discussed, such as the individual motivations for supporting Trump and the role of socialism in American history. By making “Seeing Red” into a musical, SF Mime Troupe presents itself with the challenge of turning serious topics into a lighthearted, entertaining production. While the dialogue often comes off as too contrived and many moments are cheesy, the musical ultimately accomplishes what it sets out to do.

It isn’t easy to turn politics — a sensitive topic for many — into successful humor, especially for the family-friendly environment that SF Mime Troupe presents at its shows. Agbabiaka and Holden efficiently work the relevant information into the dialogue, successfully weaving it into the story’s plot. There are some plot holes that remain open — the time travel that occurs is never actually explained — but they are easy to overlook because of the casual nature of the production.

But the dialogue doesn’t start off smoothly, at first missing a natural feeling. Every line feels over the top and is paired with slapstick-like sound effects that present an overall contrived atmosphere. However, it soon becomes apparent that the cheesiness of speech and action is intentional; the troupe is aiming for an over-the-top level of lightheartedness. Once this is clear, the dialogue appears more successful. Had it not been intentional, the entire play would have fallen flat, but the actors succeeded in taking it far enough for audience members to fall into the overblown spirit right alongside them.

The set design was simple, but effective and noteworthy. It mostly consisted of a counter with the name “Ruby’s Bar” painted on it and a large clock as the backdrop. It sets the mood for what’s to come, as time plays a major role, and every scene, past or present, takes place in the same bar. The troupe distinguishes between the two time periods by changing out signs that reflect each year; a portrait of Trump in 2018 is replaced by that of the 1912 Socialist candidate, Eugene V. Debs.

A small cast of just four actors — Lisa Hori-Garcia, Keiko Shimosato Carreiro, Michael Gene Sullivan and Andre Amarotico — filled the just-as-small stage. The characters, individually, aren’t memorable — “Seeing Red” is much more about the play as a whole, rather than the characters within the plot. The politics of the plot are the main focus and the characters are merely there to convey those political messages.

“Seeing Red” is not going to be remembered for an innovative stage design or complex characters. It will, however, be remembered for the political dialogue that it ignites and for the entertaining mode through which it conveys serious real-world topics. If audience members weren’t thinking about the politics of our present day, they will be after watching “Seeing Red,” which is exactly what SF Mime Troupe set out to do.

Contact Nikki Munoz at [email protected]. Tweet her at @Nikki_m9.