Once Vaudeville



"Augustine's concise writing and energetic performance was truly powerful."

In a masterful display of creative control, Augustine becomes the entire cast - five life-size puppets and three flesh-and-blood characters - of the two-act play he wrote and directed. Grotesque and disturbingly real, Augustine's foam rubber puppets transcend the innocent bounds of 'family entertainment' with an eerie, breathtaking profundity.

This ain't no stinkin' Sesame Street. Augustine is a fearless, accomplished performer, and his manipulation of his unnerving foam creations gives them seemingly autonomous life. They argue, they drink, they even vomit, and when he and an 8-foot tall puppet struggle with a knife, its anybody's guess who will win. Once Vaudeville is splendidly theatrical.

It should be noted that Augustine doesn’t even attempt to emulate the look-I’m-not-moving-my-lips shtick of the traditional ventriloquist. When (the puppets) talk, the actor’s lips move freely, but he invests them with such presence that you don’t notice. Your attention is focused on the dummy, not the person manipulating it, and that, it would seem, is the essence of ventriloquism.”

Kevin Augustine and his Lone Wolf Tribe sent a Thursday audience the comic curveball of HIFA 2004 with his piece “Once Vaudeville.” Dry, dark and at times bizarre, the play was a technical and dramatic masterpiece, as Kevin took us on a trip through the “Matty (Matthew!) And Jimmy Show”, and all the shadows contained therein.

The line between reality and performance was blurred immediately as Mathew Jr., son of a legendary puppeteer, welcomed patrons to his show. Following in his father’s footsteps Matthew has employed the help of a retired puppet, Jimmy, to once more regain the love and attention of his craft’s heyday. Nervous and somewhat lacking in talent, the young puppeteer has chosen the wrong assistant as Jimmy is senile, stubborn and missing his right arm.

The show is a disaster. Matthew Jr. is weak, the jokes old fashioned and Jimmy refused to cooperate, berating the young man at every opportunity, pushing him closer and closer to a very obvious edge. A confused audience is not assisted by yet another reality question, as Jimmy at times becomes Mathew’s father, calling for “the nurse” and Matthew brings him back by calling him “Pop”. The result of the puppet’s abuse is a minor breakdown, the puppet abandoned and Matthew stripping down, revealing his deep insecurities. 

The play is about wrong choices and fear. Mathew’s father hid from the world through humor and jokes, never allowing anyone, especially his son, close. His only friend was Jimmy and the puppet remained as Matthew Jr’s only tangible link with the father he never knew and was never loved by. In the end the puppeteer died in a hospital, incontinent and with only his son as comfort, a son he believed to be Jimmy. He chose the fleeting over the immortal and entertainment over love. Matthew Jr. meanwhile chose to link himself with the reason for his misery. He chose a constant reminder of loss and rejection in a sad attempt to get closer to a man he never knew.

Tipped by Manuel Bagorro to be the “cult show of HIFA 2004” Once Vaudeville is theatre as one can hardly imagine it- deep, black and heroically sad.

"Kevin Augustine takes incredible chances on stage where he bears his heart mind and soul with ferocious intensity. He is one of the most compelling and charismatic actors working in Philadelphia today....his manipulation of {his puppets} is so suburb, these inanimate objects come to seem tangibly human."