"The Patron Saint of Sideshow," a documentary filmed and directed by Mike Brown for the Found Theatre, is an enchanting Puff the Magic Dragon tale. It recounts the making of "One Tit Wonder," Cynthia Galles' sublimation of her breast cancer diagnosis into a theatre production that recasts cellular mischief into an homage to humor, high spirits, and resilience.
Every aspect of the Found Theatre is a labor of love. So too is Mike Brown's direction. He filmed hundreds of hours of the production's cast meetings and rehearsals. As he said in his opening night preamble, he didn't know what he would do with the footage, it just seemed important. Given theatre's ephemeral nature and considering what happened shortly afterwards, no truer words were ever spoken.
Watching the film, you get the sense that it must have been hard for the cast to emotionally soldier on. On one hand, there was Galles. Even while being treated for cancer, she unflappably stewarded the production through its run. On the other hand, there was the cast. They had to not only face the preparations that go into any production. They also had to deal with the fact that the play's theme, the story's conflict, and the protagonist's trials weren't a playwright's fiction but her real life, real time drama.
The film has three epicenters. Each provides a riveting layer of significance. The first is informative. The second is inspirational. And the third is nostalgic. The first documents the history of the Found Theatre. You marvel not just at its evolution from Seventh Street storefront to its present, spacious Long Beach Boulevard location. You are blown away how the shift in venue and resources didn't in the least change its gritty and iconoclastic street theatre aesthetic. Most remarkable, the Theatre celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, thus proving that the Found's unique and delightful antics are not so much idiosyncratic as germane.
The second gives us a role model. After her breast cancer diagnosis, Galles didn't bat an eyelash. She resolved to sublimate her experience of the disease into art. It's a funny and sad production; surreal and hopeful; resolute, mostly. If I'm not mistaken, she was more concerned by a clueless review than the enormity of what she had to endure. Leaving the Theatre, you hope that you face your own personal crises with such therapeutic mirth and hopeful aplomb.
The third offers a more private message. With the exception of Galles, the cast from "One Tit Wonder" was in attendance at the premiere. You watch the documentary. Later, you chat with your chums. Everyone looks so much younger up on the screen. Not less irreverent and cheeky, just older and, having gone through the crucible of the subsequent events, wiser for the experience.
Like Puff the Magic Dragon, though, the magic, or at least one iteration of the magic, ended when the Jackie Paper that was Cynthia Galles moved on. We appreciate theatre because, with its brevity, it's so much like life. It puts things into context. So too, here. That's why, as the film shows, we're reminded to seize, indeed, relish the absurdity to be found in life. Why? Because it's an antidote for everyday complacency and a surrogate for fugitive joy.
Performances are 3pm, Sunday, December 7; 8pm, Friday, December 12; 8pm, Saturday, December 13; and 3pm, Sunday December 14. Tickets are $10. The Theatre is located at 599 Long Beach Boulevard, Long Beach 90802. For more information, call (562) 433-3363 or visit www.foundtheatre.org.