Theater Review: PortFringe — Heading into the Homestretch

By Paul Dervis

What did this aging hippy, this elder of our world learn? To live a life without apologies.

Christina Augello in “Denial is a Wonderful Thing.” Photo: Jay Yamada.

Wednesday at PortFringe I  saw a one woman show 50 years in the making. Denial is a Wonderful Thing is a piece offered by EXIT Theatre, a troupe out of San Francisco that has been performing and touring for well over three decades.

The presentation had its flaws, but it never failed to provoke and entertain.

Actress and co-author Christina Augello is an accomplished monologist but a first time playwright, so she collaborated with John Caldon to pen this work. His plays have been produced not only on the West Coast, but also in the Southwest, New York City, and even here, at Boston’s Theatre Offensive.

The piece’s creative process was somewhat unusual. Christina mused about the worldly adventures of her life while Caldon taped her reminiscences, then shaped the show out of this interview material. It sounds a bit unwieldy, but the final project works well.

Augello takes us on a tour of youth and adulthood, of her mother’s addiction to her own ’60s drug fueled life, the locations ranging from California sunshine to the arid Australian outback and back again.

And what did this aging hippy, this elder of our world learn? To live a life without apologies.

The set was a stool. The lighting fringe friendly simple, with a spartan yet effecting soundtrack that set just the right tone. Her pacing was a speck too quick, and she could have moved more intimately into the albeit tiny audience (an all too frequent occurrence for out-of-town shows at these festivals). But her character came off as honest and affecting.

I had a chance to talk with Augello for a few minutes after the performance. “I don’t consider myself a playwright, but I have done several one woman shows so, from that perspective it was in my comfort zone.”
“As an actor, having played plenty of other characters on the stage, it was an interesting challenge to play myself as a character.”

And compelling it was…I will definitely check out what’s playing at EXIT Theatre next time I’m in the Bay Area.

I also took in a local lowbrow late-night comedy called Raisin’ Cain in the Hammer Lane. It felt very much like Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd doing two wild and crazy guys on SNL. And, not unlike that sketch, it was quite funny — for a bit. Unlike the aforementioned routine, which went on for about three minutes, this excursion into macho silliness (“the legendary tale of The Rascal and his gear-jammin’ buddy Hamhock”) went on for close to three quarters of an hour. And, unsurprisingly, the performers and the material couldn’t sustain that kind of manic mirth for so long. Imagine Smokey and the Bandit, Breaker, Breaker, and The Dukes of Hazzard all rolled up in one. But, unlike the vehicles in those shows, this one ran out of gas after about three blocks.

NOTES: Mad Horse Theatre Company just concluded its 33rd Season with Olivia Dufault’s The Tomb of King Tot, a funny, painful, refreshingly quirky piece about a cartoonist who, while she is in contention for a prestigious award, must deal with her chaotic personal life. Mad Horse is known for its unusual and daring choice of material and this one fit the eccentric bill. A mostly in-house group with resident actors, the cast was evenly good….I’m very much looking forward to their upcoming season.

Paul Dervis has been teaching drama in Canada at Algonquin College as well as the theatre conservatory Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for the past 15 years.

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