Philly Fringe 2017: New Paradise Laboratories’ ‘Hello Blackout!’

Darkness, their old friend

In Hello Blackout!, New Paradise Laboratories’ latest work of devised theater under Whit MacLaughlin’s direction, we are promised at the start “as profound an experience of darkness as is possible in a public space.”

The family that enters the void together dismantles the laws of physics together. (Photo by Jake Al-Dookhi.)

At the end, I thought, “Wait—what?”

Meet the Kissimmees

Here’s what happened in between at this major entry in the 2017 Philly Fringe Festival:

When last we met the monstrous Kissimmee triplets (Emily Krause, Kevin Meehan, and Matteo Scammell) during last year’s fascinating NPL show, O Monsters, they were tormenting their mother (Kate Czajkowski) and each other. Now they're back, and King Daddy (Jeffrey Cousar) has been resurrected.

The kids play a deadly variation on musical chairs, rolling on the floor, wriggling, singing, pretending to be a dog, reading from a mysterious book. They are altogether much less fascinating, because this show is far less coherent. It is largely language-free and, unlike last year’s version of these characters, the trio possess less distinct personalities and lack their earlier weird and endearing charm.

Credit where credit's due

The actors share the stage with a stunning group of musicians, a string quartet plus clarinet that provide eerie sonic backup to the eerie stage goings-on. Bhob Rainey composed the music. And credit where credit is obviously due: Thom Weaver designed both the lighting and, inevitably, the darkness.

The show’s blackouts are dense but somehow not frightening; even given the apocalyptic news of hurricanes and earthquakes in the outside world, this artificial darkness seems comfortable, even comforting.

Purporting to be an enactment of the theory of “Speculative Materialism,” a newish idea that attempts to dismantle the laws of physics and challenge the idea of matter, the show offers a giant white ball as an emblem of consciousness and asserts that thinking separates you from your physical body. (How is this new? Somebody should get Descartes on the phone. And while you’re at it, give Calderón de la Barca a ring. Doesn’t his 17th-century play Life is a Dream speak to the same issues?)

Best description I’ve heard of the nature of consciousness: “That annoying time between naps.”

Best physics joke I’ve heard about the nature of matter: A particle walks into a church. The priest says, "Higgs, what are you doing here? We don’t allow bosons in church." The Higgs boson replies, “You can’t have mass without me.”

This show could do with some of this humor and wit. 

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