Wawa. For many of us, it’s not just a store of convenience – it’s a way of life.
Your daily coffee in the morning. Hoagie Fest. A late-night snack on the way home from the bar.
Heck, out in Delco there’s a group of a dozen people or so who tailgate in the parking lot of the Clifton Heights Wawa on summer weekend nights, setting up their beach chairs in a circular fashion with the equivalent of the entire touch screen menu splayed out on the back of a truck.
So, the notion that a displaced brother and sister – originally from Philly, but stuck somewhere in Ohio – would steal their father’s urn and take a road trip back to their motherland to sprinkle dad’s ashes in the Wawa parking lot, might seem absurd to some, to those of us who know better, it’s a pilgrimage that we both understand and respect.
And that’s why Tribe of Fools telling of that story in Operation: Wawa Road Trip, their entry in the 2019 Philadelphia Fringe Festival, is so relatable.
We are Lee and Joey, the brother and sister who fight about everything but still love the heck out of each other. We know people like the Millers, the crazy cat people, the very employees of the convenience stores they patronize – as they are all folks we encounter every day. We get the notion of ordering some crazy concoction that no one else in their right mind would eat, but because it’s almost ritualistic to do so, we do it every time we go there.
We get it – and so does Tribe of Fools.
There are plenty of top-notch theatre companies in and around Philadelphia, but Tribe of Fools packs the biggest punch when it comes to Philadelphia-oriented storytelling.
Much like they did last year with Fly Eagles Fly, Tribe of Fools takes the art of “devised theatre” – a collaboration of the members of the company – to tell a truly Philadelphian story, which means it has equal parts atty-tood and provincial heart – and does so in it’s inimitable style that blends usually individualized storytelling techniques together to provide audiences with a unique theatrical experience.
Seriously, Tribe of Fools provides a production with the fulfillment of a cheese steak, the pleasing twists of a soft pretzel yet with the complexity and nuance of scrapple.
The way they weave dance and acrobatics with traditional, script-driven theatrics, is always unique and always impressive.
Caitlin Corkery is the lead scriptwriter for Tribe of Fools on this project and does a great job of keeping the story moving and finding quirky and funny ways of doing so while Joseph Ahmed’s direction is incredibly fluid despite its difficult coordination.
Tribe of Fools is an artist-in-residence at the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, which, if you didn’t know it coming into Operation: Wawa Road Trip, it takes all of 30 seconds to figure out.
The play opens with a creative movement montage that does a great job in setting up the Dayton to Philly road trip before the script even births its first conversation.
Taiwo Sokan (Lee) is superb as the spontaneous older sister who concocts the plan to take dad across two states to go to their “home” Wawa. It’s never mentioned where exactly the home Wawa is in the Philly area, and whether that was intentional or not, it’s brilliant, because it makes each audience member imagine it is their own home Wawa and imagines what would happen if they happened to be there when this brother and sister arrived and started sprinkling ashes.
Still, she is a complex character who grieves in her own way, by trying to remember every last detail of her time with her dad and celebrate as best she can, as if doing so on the regular will keep his spirit alive that much longer.
Conversely, Jahzeer Terrell (Joey) embodies the role-play-gaming nerd stereotype to a tee. Whether it’s entrusting his 20-sided die with each tough decision, or dealing with hallucinations (or non-hallucinations, you decide) of crazy, mythical characters, Terrell wrestles with his character’s inner demons. It sucks being the younger sibling. He didn’t have as great a relationship with his father as Lee. He prefers to avoid decision-making or conflict and chooses to hide himself in the bubble of his imagination.
As for the ensemble of Tiffany Bacon, Janice Rowland and Kyle Yacoski, let’s just say they have many scene-stealing moments that should not be given away in this review.
But, whether they are the Miller family who you run into at a rest stop, or a high strung state trooper, or a bathroom apparition, or a beverage hoarder, or a country music singer, or feline-fueled road ragers, or convenience store ninjas that put the News team fight in Anchorman to shame, this trio of talented performers will have you catching your breath with laughs around every turn of Lee and Joey’s car.
In any piece of performance art that requires a lot of precise movement, the choreography and fight coordination have to be on point. Zachary Cheiro’s choreography combined with Michael Cosenza’s fight direction were sensational. Make no mistake, what this cast did, while hilarious, was incredibly difficult, and Cheiro and Cosenza are the reason for it.
A special shout out needs to go to Damien Figueras, who had an absolutely impeccable sound design. For a show that relied so heavily on sound (Pay attention to Siri), it was important that every sound was precise and accurate – and they were.
Lexa Grace’s costumes were a blast, from the Millers’ matching T-shirts, to the cat-coordination to the soda lurker (you’ll see), everything was a hoot.
Peter Smith’s scenic design was smart, considering the confines of the space and the need to utilize a playing area and to have a car to be driven in it to boot, while Robin Stamey’s lighting design aptly displayed the temperature of each scene and helped to transition each shift in the script nicely.
There’s a lot of great stuff playing at Philly Fringe this year. See as much as you can but be sure that Operation: Wawa Road Trip is on your itinerary.
Operation: Wawa Road Trip runs through Sept. 21. All performances are at the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 312 Hicks St.Tickets cost $15-$25 and are available online at www.fringearts.com, by phone at 215-413-1318, or at the Fringe Arts Box Office.
All photos by Dallas Padoven Photography