San Francisco Mime Troupe: “Breakdown” Review

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For over 60 years the San Francisco Mime Troupe has performed political theater in public parks throughout the Bay Area and abroad. The Tony-award winning company maintains their mission “to create and produce theater that presents a working-class analysis of the events that shape our society, that exposes social and economic injustice, that demands revolutionary change on behalf of working people, and to present this analysis before the broadest possible audience with artistry and humor.”

This year’s production, “Breakdown,” is a political satire musical in the tradition of the classical definition of “mime,” the exaggeration of daily life in story and song. Breakdown follows the story of Yume, an unhoused woman living in the streets of San Francisco who at first refuses to accept help from an understanding and understandably tired social worker named Saidia. Over the next hour, the play narrows in on many of the issues we face in our cities today: homelessness, mental health crises, entrepreneurial “solutions,” deceptive news outlets, and the uphill battle of trying to make an oppressive system work for the people.

Breakdown’s comedy relies on often cartoonish characters. But every character is three-dimensional and their stories and actions believable. The Black FOX News commentator Marcia, for example, is trying to climb the corporate ladder. This is a seeming last ditch effort after the bureaucracy of social services failed her and her family when she was a kid. She faces sexism and harassment at work and we see the way she has learned to navigate these repressive spaces to stay afloat. Or Felix, another character experiencing homelessness, who holds on to the hope that one great (and wacky) business idea will help him and his friends come out of poverty. Near the end, we see him finally reaching out for the emotional and social support he really needs. And, of course, there is the caring and dedicated social worker Saidia who just needs a day to rest.

With humor and some very catchy songs, “Breakdown” asks the audience to consider our response to the crises we all witness if we choose to pay attention. “I see you see me. Look me in the eye,” Yume sings in despair. She pleads us to consider who or what is really “crazy.” Is it the people asking for a decent place to live? Or the society that accepts seeing some people as less than human, not even worthy of eye contact? To begin answering this, the Troupe urges us to find our compassion for one another while acknowledging the very real social divisions and brutal capitalist system we must overcome.

A few weekend shows remain in their summer schedule:

Features Andre Amarotico, Jamella Cross, Alicia M. P. Nelson, Jed Parsario, Kina Kantor, and Taylor Gonzalez. And band members Breakfast, Guinevere Q, and Jason Young.

Written by Michael Gene Sullivan and Marie Cartier

Music & Lyrics by Daniel Savoy

Directed by Michael Gene Sullivan

Music Direction by Daniel Savio and Choreography by AeJay Mitchell