Super, Thanks for Asking

I was bummed to miss Super:Anti:Reluctant the first time around, in 2006, because I’m interested in the San Francisco ensemble Mugwumpin’s collaboratively devised work, and it’s a whole show themed around superheroes. I don’t want to shock you or anything, but I’m a big ol’ geek about superheroes. Fortunately, Mugwumpin’s celebrating its tenth anniversary with a celebration mysteriously titled Mugwumpin10 (what could it possibly mean?!), which includes revivals of favorite old pieces such as S:A:R and 2010’s This Is All I Need. Mugwumpin was going to follow these revivals in rep with the premiere of a new piece in September, Blockbuster Season, but the show has had to be postponed for health reasons.

Soren Santos and Rami Margron in Super:Anti:Reluctant. Photo by Pak Han.

Soren Santos and Rami Margron in Super:Anti:Reluctant. Photo by Pak Han.

Super:Anti:Reluctant must have originally been a very different piece from the revamped and revived version on display at the ACT Costume Shop. For one thing, it was created by five performers (Denmo Ibrahim, Ledo Lum, Celeste Martinez, Christopher W. White and Joe Estlack) and now features three, none of whom were in the earlier version(s). It was redeveloped in 2008 into a three-person version with some of the original performers that went on tour to Cairo.

Just under an hour long, the show isn’t about superheroes so much as the idea of superheroes. The characters in it are all ordinary people overwhelmed by life and work, who fantasize about having superpowers to cut through their daily frustrations. Soren Santos’s nervous barista gains the ability to juggle lattes confidently and restock shelves at super speed. Rami Margron’s introverted office worker who keeps sneaking peeks at a comic book while making copies imagines hulking out with strength and ferocity to cut through long coffee-shop lines. Natalie Greene’s harried single mom needs superpowers just to keep up with her hyper kids.

Around each of these characters, the other two actors populate their worlds with broadly cartoonish figures making their lives hell: demanding kids, breezy Realtors, buffoonish coworkers, impatient customers, and even—randomly, as if they wandered in from another show entirely—a family of old-timey homesteaders heading west to find a place to stake their claim.

The show is not so much a coherent piece as a stream-of-association riff on the superhero idea. Each performer talks about formative childhood encounters with the ideas of heroism or superpowers, ostensibly as herself or himself, while the others act out a series of synchronized superhero movements that appear to be mock flight exercises. There are occasional snippets of the tale of an archetypal superhero, Captain Strong, often embodied by Margron with Santos as a sneering supervillain. There’s some singing of rambling folky ballads, and faux confessionals about the superpowers that the performers “actually” have. In a somewhat dated reference, we keep returning to gymnast Kerri Strug’s heroic vault on an injured ankle at the 1996 Olympics.

Despite this impression of just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks (a tricky proposition when the set is a city skyline made of all-too-rippable white paper), Super:Anti:Reluctant is often funny and continually entertaining. Directed by Michelle Talgarow, it’s also dynamically physical, with some particularly amusing choreographed fight scenes and a cool low-tech flying effect. All barefoot and dressed in gray suits, the performers are versatile and very much in sync. As a rumination on heroism, it’s less triumphant than bittersweet, boiling down the need to feel special and strong to the all too real sensation of feeling ineffectual and small.

Through July 13
ACT Costume Shop
1117 Market Street
San Francisco, CA

Show #57 of 2014, attended June 29.

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