Movement shines in Mugwumpin’s ‘Super:Anti:Reluctant’ 

click to enlarge Super:Anti:Reluctant
  • Skilled physical actors Soren Santos, left, and Natalie Greene appear in Mugwumpin’s “Super:Anti:Reluctant.”

There’s a whimsical, fragmented shapelessness that’s characteristic of Mugwumpin’s quasi-devised theater pieces, and that aesthetic is clearly on display in “Super:Anti:Reluctant,” a 2006 play now remounted — in repertory with another, more recent, revival, “This Is All I Need” — to celebrate the adventurous company’s 10th birthday.

“Super,” a light-hearted look at our obsession with the concept of superhero, was redeveloped in 2008 by Rebecca Noon, Christopher W. White and Joe Estlack, with directorial assistance from Denmo Ibrahim (one of its original creators). It’s crisply directed in a new San Francisco production by Michelle Talgarow and performed by a trio impressively skilled in physical theater: Natalie Greene, Rami Margron and Soren Santos.

It is those expressive movement skills that register most strongly in “Super.” The dialogue, which is less profound and probing than one might wish — not so much.

In depicting a series of characters — a barista, office workers, an iconic Old West explorer, caffeine-addled Starbucks’ customers, a real estate agent and more — the actors, all barefoot and dressed in dark business suits (costumes by Ashley Rogers), create not only precisely choreographed gestures that use every part of their bodies, but also a whole symphony of related vocalizations. They include mechanical and techno sounds, agonized screams and other noises (also a few songs, some original, one accompanied on a squeeze box).

Scenes morph seamlessly from one to another, as do the characters, appearing and reappearing, sometimes aided by simple props, always bright red: a child’s cowboy hat, an apron, a large purse, a bandana. They’re cartoonish, comical and wistful.

Santos’ barista, in particular, creates a whole, imaginary ballet out of commandeering the espresso machines while fantasizing about taking complete control of his environment — and finding true love.

“Do you dream about flying?” the performers (who go in and out of their real personas) ask one another. In the most visually arresting scene, Greene shows the others how to “fly,” seeming to glide through the air with her cape billowing behind her. Ray Oppenheimer’s lights add to the low-tech illusion.

“Super” does have a beginning and an ending, simple and effective. But, although the show is only 55 minutes long, the middle is flat. By design, gestures are repetitive, but eventually become numbingly so, and I craved more insight into that human need to rise, both literally and figuratively, above banal reality.



Presented by Mugwumpin

Where: The Costume Shop, 1117 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday

Tickets: $25


About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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