In 1970 Holden wrote her first original play, The Independent Female, or A Man Has His Pride, which broke new ground in two ways: it dropped the commedia format in favor of melodrama, and it was a feminist play. "What was new was the immense emotional reaction of the audience," she recounts. "That's melodrama-you take sides, and the audience is emotionally engaged. It was very popular. Hissing, booing-very visceral.
"The New Left had a sexist element," she continues. "Basically in the New Left there was a women's revolt at the time. What would happen with the play is that couples would come holding hands and leave arguing."
I ask if she wants her audiences to leave a Mime Troupe performance angry. "It's a mix," she replies. "They should always go away angry, but they should have a good time. They should have enjoyed themselves. There should have been some kind of liberating experience. I don't want an audience to go away depressed."
These days the Mime Troupe almost entirely eschews the commedia format for musical melodrama, but the plays are still wacky and pointed, and viewers still love them. The 1996 play Soul Suckers From Outer Space, for example, parodied '50s-style science fiction movies with a harrowing tale of aliens transforming a small town into complacent consumers by means of the hamburgers served up at their fast-food franchise. Many in the audience left the performance mimicking the play's zombie mantra: "Eat . . . the . . . burger! EAT . . . THE . . . BURGER!"
It's safe to say that the Mime Troupe's audience doesn't overlap heavily with that of Cats. As a kind of community theatre of the left, does the Mime Troupe ever find itself preaching to the choir? Sometimes yes, she admits, but points out that the company plays to mainstream audiences when it tours. "We play to high school kids just fine. We do popular theatre, the lowbrow tradition from commedia to TV sitcoms. And that plays to anybody. We played a street festival in Colombia; we played to an audience of maids in Hong Kong." And the audience is not just sixties holdovers. "I look around Dolores Park and see as many people in their 20s as in their 50s," she says, proudly. It's true: at this summer's production of City for Sale, the troupe's current take on gentrification, the audience included young and old hippies, punks, radicals, internet gurus, and a generous sampling of middle-class families.