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Bringing It All Back Home 

First Strike weaves theater out of social issues

For all their televangelistic glory, right-wingers tend to be almost uniformly passive when it comes to creating reactionary, revolutionary art. Where have all the battle songs gone? Where is the homophobic movement in theater to rival the surge in gay-themed plays? And who was behind the conspiracy to squash the street theater movement celebrating Gingrichism, ultimately leading to the demise of the class of '94's Contract on America?

The playwright Edward Albee once said (in a Colorado theater), "If any art is merely decorative or merely comforting, it is failing in its responsibility." By those standards, First Strike Theatre's Home Show: From Marketplace to Table Grace is as responsible as you'd ever want your art to get. With a spoonful of decoration and a pinch of comfort, the cast leads its audience through a 90-minute confrontation of everyday issues too easily swept under the carpet in an annual pantomime of spring cleaning.

The dozen or so skits and songs that make up the evening are as unabashedly campy as they are uncompromisingly forthright. After a welcoming opening number adapted from Oliver's "Consider Yourself," the company launches into one of its longest skits, "An Urban ReMOVal Story." Using a cardboard cut-out neighborhood, a rolling MARKET-mobile, and a couple of scene-stealing puppets, First Strike takes on the concept and utilization of the Community Development Block Grants and the Urban Renewal Authority. The 20-minute theatrical lesson plan may stretch the patience of the poor soul who wandered in expecting a soothing night of escapism, but for the most part, First Strike succeeds in making snappy, humorous, engaging moments out of concepts that are often lost in a wash of local politics. The comfort comes in the familiar tunes that house new lyrics -- "In the jungle, the market jungle, the bottom line decides" -- and the sledge hammer of a summary statement comes in a closing slideshow depicting the demolition of the old Peace and Justice Center in the Lowell neighborhood just south of downtown.

Another lengthy piece is essentially a treatise on genetically engineered agriculture, brought brilliantly to life by Megan Chanin as Vandanna, the commune kid turned pie bandit, sneaking up incognito to splatter the face of the big food companies with her organically grown tofu cream and pumpkin pies. Vandanna's monologue could just as easily be delivered as a lecture at a podium, keeping all the language intact to make a respectable, formal presentation. Chanin's sustained, vibrant characterization, however, along with a couple real pie deliveries, keeps the audience on their toes, entertained and engrossed in the story while the message gently sinks in.

For more extreme caricatures, turn to "Star Whores' Stocks and Bombs," with Mary Sprunger-Froese as Miss Panty-gone, leading the Starship Private Enterprise on its mission to spread corporate family values. One of the most playful bits is the "Garden Variety Medley," which finds the cast members wonderfully depicted as various vegetables representing Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) as they break into such songs as "Farmer's Market" (sung to the tune of "Peace Train"), "Grown on the CSA" ("Born in the USA") and "Food and Shelter" ("Helter Skelter"). And the homage to the vegetable-grease-fueled car, "Grease Lightnin'," is the perfect example of an irresistible number that educates as it entertains.

The whole evening has the revitalizing atmosphere of a Pete Seeger concert (it's hard not to hear him, head back, voice raised singing the anthem "If the people lead, then the leaders will follow"), steadily engaging its audience in a growing wave of community feeling and social activism. First Strike draws on a tradition epitomized by everyone from Woody Guthrie to Arlo Guthrie, from the Weavers to Peter, Paul, and Mary, and from Abbie Hoffman to Edward Albee. With strong, confident vocals led by musical director and company member Lyn Boudreau and unrestrained, fearless theatricality by the entire company, Home Show makes for an evening of compelling, responsible infotainment.

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