Obituaries

Joan Holden, 85, Playwright Who Skewered Rich and Powerful, Dies

To Joan Holden, a fiercely left-wing playwright for the award-winning San Francisco Mime Troupe,life in a capitalist society offered almost too many targets: conniving politicians, labor-squashing industrialists and masters of war looking to profit by spreading conflict around the globe, to name just a few.

As the theater collective’s principal playwright from 1967 to 2000, she largely trafficked in satire, collaborating on loose-limbed lampoons and melodramas like “Ripped Van Winkle,” about a 1960s hippie who conks out for decades after a monster L.S.D. trip and awakens to find himself trapped in a nightmare of yuppie greed and materialism in the 1980s.

Even in the troupe’s broadest farces, the point was to make audiences chuckle their way to political enlightenment.

Ms Holden during an event staged by her San Francisco Mime Troupe in 1969. Audiences needed little background to figure out the group’s leftist political leanings. Credit…via Holden family

“I write plays about things I’m pissed off about, usually attacking people in power,” she said as part of a panel on humor in 1999, as reported in her obituary in The San Francisco Chronicle. She described humor as “the revenge of the powerless.”

“Physically, I can’t get at these people,” she said, but she “can expose them to ridicule. Maybe I can’t slay the dragon, but I can make him look silly.”

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