Often, he explains, the troupe’s shows are all about “Here’s the villain, here’s the hero. Let’s see if the hero can defeat the villain before the show’s over.”
“Ripple Effect,” however, takes a more psychological approach. The three female characters belong to the 99 percent, yet perceive one another as villains rather than classmates.
“Will they get over that and see each other as allies, and what is the change that has to happen inside them?” Sullivan says.
The troupe, established by R.G. Davis and now in its 55th consecutive season, uses broad comedy to explore hot-button issues from a leftist viewpoint. It stages a new play annually and this year’s show, which runs throughout the summer at various Northern California outdoor locations, opens Friday in Dolores Park in The City
As the three characters in “Ripple Effect” fight among themselves and scapegoat one another, the play examines issues that resonate both locally and globally: surveillance, housing, community involvement and more.
The women, played by longtime troupe regulars, are on a tour boat on San Francisco Bay, operated by a 1970s-style black activist (Velina Brown). The other two are a Google bus techie (Lisa Hori-Garcia) from small-town America and a Vietnamese immigrant (Keiko Shimosato Carreiro).
As each woman reveals her backstory, the others, and Sullivan, depict characters in her tale.
“The women each represent different aspects of the working class,” elaborates Sullivan.
The goal is to show how subjectively each of us sees the world. The more we understand the other, posits Sullivan, the easier it is to allow everyone space — and to recognize the common enemy.
“Who benefits? Who profits?” he challenges. “That’s what we need to look at.”
Sullivan and co-writers Eugenie Chan and Tanya Shaffer each chose a character. Chan gravitated to the immigrant, whose story is told in Vietnamese puppet play form as almost a song-poem. Shaffer crafted the techie’s tale, fashioned as a melodrama, and Sullivan presents the militant boat operator’s segment in blaxploitation style.
Ira Marlowe composed the music and wrote the lyrics, Michael Bello is the music director and musician with the live trio, and the play is co-directed by troupe veterans Wilma Bonet and Hugo E. Carbajal.
This show, emphasizes Sullivan, is “about us, the workers.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Northern California parks
When: 2 p.m. most shows; opens Friday; closes Sept. 1
Tickets: Free, donations requested
Contact: (415) 285-1717, www.sfmt.org
Select Bay Area performances
2 p.m. Friday-Saturday and Aug. 31, Sept. 1: Dolores Park, 19th and Dolores streets, S.F.
2 p.m. Sunday: Yerba Buena Gardens, Mission and Third streets, S.F.
7 p.m. July 10 and Aug. 21: Mitchell Park, South Field, 600 E. Meadow Drive, Palo Alto
2 p.m. July 12-13: Cedar Rose Park, 1300 Rose St., Berkeley
2 p.m. July 26-27: Live Oak Park, Shattuck Avenue and Berryman Street, Berkeley
7 p.m. Aug. 6-7: Lakeside Park, Edoff Memorial Band Stand, Oakland
2 p.m. Aug. 16: Glen Park, Bosworth Street and O’Shaughnessy Boulevard, S.F.
2 p.m. Aug. 17: Washington Square Park, Columbus Avenue and Union Street, S.F.
7 p.m. Aug. 28: Troupe Studio Space, 855 Treat Ave., S.F. (reservations required: www.brownpapertickets.com/event/715818)
2 p.m. Aug. 30: Golden Gate Park, Peacock Meadow, JFK Drive and Peacock Meadow, S.F.