"I love playing to new people," she adds, noting that the Mime Troupe has performed at local tourist spots, "but you can't be ungrateful to the audience that has supported you. Of course, anything political gets marginalized in our culture." Holden isn't fazed by the current conservative climate. "There are thousands of young people in this city leading very marginalized lives, and I find that everywhere we go. . . . These may be conservative times, but radicalism is not dead, not by a long shot." In any case, she adds, conservative periods "are very good times to be a satirist."
But even though the Mime Troupe is a venerable progressive institution in the solidly liberal Bay Area, it's not afraid to satirize the left. "People get incensed," Holden smiles. "They come raging up and ask, are we really saying that black people can be racist, how dare we call a character a Jewish princess-stuff like that all the time."
Her inspiration, she says, comes from "rage. Satire comes from anger, turning rage into humor." In deciding on ideas for plays, the collective asks itself, "what are we mad about?" She admits that sometimes the anger has on occasion overwhelmed the art, though she's learned to balance the two. "What's more important, art or politics?" she asks, rhetorically. "I refuse to distinguish. I do art about politics." These days, "political humor" connotes talk-show hosts making single-entendre jokes about cigars and Viagra, or limp, nonpartisan singalongs of the Capitol Steps variety. The Mime Troupe prefers its jokes more barbed. The result is often funnier than poking Trent Lott's hair with a yardstick.
I ask Holden which authors influence her plays. Instead of contemporary playwrights like Stoppard or Durang, she mentions Swift and Aristotle. "The Poetics was all the theatrical criticism I needed. Aristotle explains things, the primacy of action. I've never found him to be wrong.