Theatre Review: Tribe of Fools has chartered a new course with Magdalene

Historically, Mary Magdalene has been described in a variety of ways. She has been portrayed in art, theatre, music and in book form as a complex woman of her time.

No one knows what version of Magdalene is correct, and we never will know for sure, but Tribe of Fools is offering an interesting interpretation at the Adrienne Theatre this month.

Presenting a one-woman production of Rachel Gluck’s play Magdalene through April 22, Tribe of Fools is stepping far outside their comfort zone – one which is chockfull of energy, movement, physicality and humor – and presenting a pastoral homily about the most misunderstood disciple of Jesus Christ – and suggesting that she is an amalgam of every story you have ever heard about her – and more.

And in doing so, Tribe of Fools has definitely chartered a new course – suggesting that maybe their footprint in performance art is more wide-ranging than you think.

Colleen Hughes (Magdalene) shines as the storyteller who, as the 55-minute tome progresses through one time-shift after another (indicated smartly on the intimate stage by Angela Myers lighting design), tells us that Magdalene was everywoman – through ages and generations and different lives. Through war and peacetime. A lesbian. A New York Jew. A French woman mistook as a German spy. And, of course, Mary herself – who talked out of school by telling stories of Jesus – whom she only referred to as “the teacher” and his 12 apostles who she tom-boyed around with until Peter – the one she didn’t like – decided there was no more room for her in his boy’s club and had her removed so she couldn’t hear the locker room banter anymore.

And that was another level of brilliance in Gluck’s writing – it’s timeliness. It’s almost as she would have been able to predict the peak in feminism that is inherent in our country today – and found a way to make Magdalene the common thread linking similar hurdles women faced in biblical times to those they face today.

Hughes expertly portrayed a variety of these women – all of who visited the cave in which she dwells. It was at times schizophrenic, at times nostalgic, at times wistful, but never misguided – and that is a testament to both Hughes’ performance as well as the pinpoint direction of Brenna Geffers.

I wasn’t in love with the dance movements in the piece. They seemed a little disjointed, and more of an homage to what Tribe of Fools usually presents on stage than appropriate to the script – with the lone exception of the scene where Magdalene gets drunk with the apostles and dances with them, maybe even the teacher himself – but otherwise, the script was so flowing and connective, that breaking it up with interpretive dance seemed unnecessary.

That hiccup aside though, Hughes had us entranced. So much so that the humor in her lines – and there was humor – didn’t land on the audience the night I was there – although, I was seated three seats over from Gluck, and we certainly had no problem chuckling aloud when a funny line called for it.

But excuse the crowd for being so immersed into the world that Hughes created. Wearing a black and gold robe and blue and gold flowing bellbottom pants, she floated around the awesome set – an altar of gifts and candles that outlined the cave where Magdalene was hiding out, hinted to be somewhere in the bowels of her shrine in St. Baume, France, with an all-inclusive bookshelf propped up by a wooden church hymn board, that was only missing the numeral slides to indicate where to find a song like, “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.”

Hughes’ characters were firmly entrenched in memory, and she’s an expert storyteller, so much so that you almost miss it when, in the middle of the show she tells you “I am not Mary Magdalene, or whatever name you know her by, but at the same time, I am.”

Kudos to Doug Greene for the simple-looking, but truly complex set. His winding stream of gifts left by women who have stopped by the cave was a mystery collection of trinkets until Hughes explained each one, and his back wall, with thousands of words scribbled and crossed out, and written over one another sent a subtle, yet important message of the maddening world in which Magdalenes live in our world.

Geffers also was responsible for the costume, as well as the sound design, which nicely mixed the voices of the various men in the various lives of the characters Hughes portrayed, as well as a balance of music from someone plucking away on a Hindustani classical sitar to the chorus of “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds.

Find time this month to get to the Adrienne and see Hughes bring Gluck’s poetic writing to life – and see a different side of the Tribe of Fools than you might be accustomed.



Playing at the Adrienne Theatre thru April 22

Tickets $15 and $20

Tribe of Fools is a physical theatre company formed at The Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre and has been creating original work in Philadelphia since 2003.  The company began in Germantown in 2003 and moved to South Philly in 2004.  Their signature physical stylization has earned them the titles of “stylish” and “signature sweet badass” and “A true theatrical powerhouse.”


In fourteen years Tribe of Fools has created fifteen original pieces including; Bedlam!, Echo, Fool, The Slightly Brown Girl,  Armageddon at the Mushroom Village (which said “danced it’s way through bitterness and despair to and end that makes Pink Floyd’s wall look like Steamboat Willie”), Dracula and Heavy Metal Dance Fag (which was hailed as “A raw-talking, blood pumping, street smart and altogether charming piece” by the Philadelphia Inquirer), Shut Your Wormhole, the “Bold Winner” Antihero, the “badass and sweet” Two Street, Zombies… with Guns! and  “Fishtown – A Hipster Noir” and School Play. Tribe of Fools has also produced nine cabarets, Tribe of Fools is known for their signature physical style of stage movement and recently won their first Barrymore for Outstanding Choreography for Antihero. 


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