Puppets in Review- Kevin Augustine

Lone Wolf Tribe- Big Top Machine

Collective Unconscious, New York, NY
August 29, 1999

review by Donald Devet

Kevin Augustine tells the story of a dreamer, an idealistic young man who wants to do only one thing in this world– to be a “hero.”

A two hundred and fifty-foot tall pole dominates center stage. It supports the Big Top, circus lingo for main tent. And climbing the pole is the “hero” in appropriate yellow tights and flowing red cape. Up, up he shimmies to the very swaying top. Then the “hero” waves to the crowd, lets go of the pole and flies a la Superman (with the help of a few wires) to the safety of terra firma where he is greeted by appreciative cheers.

But all is not well under the Big Top. Thanks to the ownership by, and bottom line consciousness of large corporations, the romance of the circus is long gone. Once there was a guy cleaning up after the elephants, now he’s called a Defecation Engineer. Once there were heroes and hero worshipers, now, no one believes in heroes anymore. Heroes are relics of the past, a sideshow, nothing more than freaks.

This is the message Kevin Augustine of Philadelphia has cleverly crafted into his almost one-man show, “The Big Top Machine.” Assisted by two invisible puppeteers Kevin tells the story of a dreamer, an idealistic young man who wants to do only one thing in this world– to be a “hero.” He attempts to fulfill his dream under the Big Top.

Through a series of flashbacks, Kevin acts out the hero’s literal rise and fall. Kevin slips in and out of a variety of characters including a yellow wigged, broad-chested lion tamer, a down on his luck skid row bum, and a naive caped “hero.”

Kevin uses his puppets sparingly. A polyfoam ringmaster and a miniature version of the caped “hero” come to mind. But it’s Kevin’s fluid acting that dominates and drives the story toward its bittersweet end. Ridiculed by children and shunned by the circus, the “hero” can only find solace in a company of characters straight out of the 1932 “Freaks” film. At last the “hero” is with his own kind.

“Big Top Machine” is billed as a work-in-progress. Some scenes are too long and Kevin goes off on humorous tangents that only dilute the story rather than support it. But in spite of a few odd ramblings, this show has the potential to make us wish for an innocence we have lost forever.

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