You Can’t Go Back: the San Francisco Mime Troupe’s 2022 Show

San Francisco Mime Troupe. Photo: Jonah Raskin.

After a hiatus of three years because of the pandemic, the San Francisco Mime Troupe launched its summer 2022 season with a lively production that was staged outdoors in Dolores Park on July 4th. A musical comedy that veers into melodrama and that offers rousing songs, pointed dialogue – and some speeches—Back to the Way Things Were is quintessential Mime Troupe theater.

The small but versatile cast invited the audience to reject nostalgia, stay in the present, no matter how anxiety-producing it might be, and fight like hell for social, economic and political changes that might be called revolutionary. The SFMT has delivered that same message with variations for decades, though this season, like every previous season, it presents topical and timely material. The cast references Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, abortion, surveillance, fast food, the homeless, the obfuscations of language and the privitization of just about everything in America today.

Lizzie Calogero and Norman Gee gave stellar performances, especially when they belted out the theme song, “Back to the Way Things Were.” At least one of the main characters expresses major illusions and wants to go back to a past that never really existed. But he changes his mind and realizes that a return to yesterday wouldn’t solve any of the multiple problems of the present day. The upbeat SFMT Band Members —Will Durkee, Jason Young and Daniel Savio, Mario’s son—energized the crowd and enlivened the songs.

By turns sad and funny, frightening and inspiring, the musical dramatizes the dialectic between victims and change agents. The characters are prisons of the past and the present day, but also capable of liberating themselves and those around them. Michael Gene Sullivan authored “Back to the Way Things Were” with help from Marie Cartier. Daniel Savio provided the music and the lyrics to the songs. Velina Brown, the director, kept the production on track. A “magic gun” adds a strong comic book element by sending the characters forward and backward in time and thereby propelling much of the plot.

A large appreciative audience cheered, booed, laughed and seemed to leave Dolores Park and then scatter to destinations all over the Bay Area, with a feeling that the afternoon had been well spent under a blue sky and with the SalesForce Tower looming in the distance—a reminder of corporate America.

By all means, see this production even if you have to travel to SF. It’s free – though it depends on donations and on grants— and it’s a living part of our extended cultural revolution that made the July 4th crowd a tad uncomfortable without leaving anyone in a state of despair or hopelessness. It hit just the right balance.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.