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THEATER REVIEW : Mime-Less 'City Confidential' Warms the Heart and Soul

August 19, 1995|LAURIE WINER | TIMES THEATER CRITIC

The San Francisco Mime Troupe's brand of cheerful political theater can best be described as a living comic book, drawn in bright colors. "Coast City Confidential," the latest from the troupe that has kept on trucking since 1959, is at Los Angeles Theatre Center only until Sunday. And, for the uninitiated who hate the sight of a white-gloved actor feeling the surface of a nonexistent wall: The show contains no mimes .

A thinly disguised San Francisco, Coast City is a hip town with a new hot-shot tabloid editor, Earthangel Glass (Rebecca Jane Klingler), the Tina Brown of alternative weeklies. Peroxide blonde, Lycra-mini-skirted and navel-pierced, Earthangel likes to assign stories on tattoo parlors and trendy restaurants, the kind that serve crayfish and chili pie with bok choy vinaigrette. She doesn't know where City Hall is located, but watch out, Earthangel is about to be politicized.

A slew of people fight for the soul of Earthangel. Drunk old aunt Millie (Sharon Lockwood), an ex-journalist herself, wants to get Earthangel cracking against the evil business lobby that continues to evade paying taxes for the social services the city desperately needs. But Earthangel is also set up by slinky powerbroker Chanel Grimes (Velina Brown) and wooed by a Bank of America executive named Sam Bourbon Jr. (the names tell the story).

Bourbon (Ed Holmes) convinces Earthangel that big business is like the giant redwood trees that give nutrients and shelter to the little trees below. He gets Earthangel to see that the new tax package about to be passed in city council would be very, very bad. She writes a cover story ("Toxic Taxes") that almost prevents the package from passing.

But, not to worry, Earthangel will just as quickly come to her senses and do the right thing, as her name portends. Director Michael Gene Sullivan keeps Joan Holden's story rushing along so that its brightly colored but stay-within-the-lines liberalism doesn't offend with its simplicity.

The characters describe their positions in a handful of catchy songs by Bruce Barthol and Elliot Humerto Kavee. These songs would fit right into a politicized "Sesame Street"; they underline the troupe's spirited belief that holding onto a black-and-white world view can be a guiding light in cynical times.

At the end, city council passes the tax package, and there will be money for public transportation, health care and social services, "all the things that make the city a great place to live."

This is not theater to change anyone's mind about anything. The troupe leaves its audience in the warm glow that people feel when their beliefs are portrayed as angelic, and when those beliefs triumph to make the world a better place. In fact, the troupe does have something in common with mime after all. It traces the walls of a world not visibly in existence, stylishly, with a childlike pleasure in the illusion, and all in black and white.

* "Coast City Confidential," Los Angeles Theatre Center, 514 S. Spring St., Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m. Ends Sun. $18. (213) 387-2800. Running time: 90 minutes.

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