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In Fishtown: A Hipster Noir, Tribe of Fools combines noir style — moody lighting, trench coats, fedoras, smoke, direct audience address, violence, a mystery wrapped in greed and lust — with their elegantly acrobatic staging and wacky humor. While the title suggests a Philly-centric spoof, Caitlin Weigel's smart script, tightly directed by Peter Smith, succeeds as a modern thriller about identity, addiction, and loss.
Tara Demmy plays Fishtown private investigator Sarah Lowell (not "detective," there's a difference) eking out a living on Philadelphia's mean streets. Her assistant Bradley (Zachary Chiero) is a technology user: "You called someone who was texting you?" he complains. "Do you hate them?"
Lowell, however, sticks to her old phone ("It doesn't even have a camera!" Bradley protests) and a 2006 laptop hidden in a "supersecret box," opened only in emergencies. She prefers the printed Yellow Pages directory.
Thrust into the 21st century
Lowell's new case involves virtual-reality goggles called "New View," created by green-haired hipster billionaire Aimsley (Joseph Ahmed) and dowdy assistant Claire (Jenna Kuerzi). Their upcoming "Holo Now" taps into users' minds, bringing memories to virtual life. Kyle Yackoski plays Lowell's enigmatic confessor, his identity one of the show's many surprises.
Weigel's plot swirls with noir twists and betrayals, augmented by Chiero's spectacularly choreographed scenes in Tribe of Fools' athletic, dance-fight-parkour style. Fishtown's dynamic staging is exciting and integral to the story. There’s an opening dumbshow sequence and many shadow scenes behind the translucent screens of Smith's set, plus a hilarious depiction of a Holo Now user's trippy adventure with the device turned up to 10 (normal setting is 3). Robin Stamey's bold lighting captures noir style with plenty of color, as do Lexa Grace's witty costumes.
Words as well as action
These actors are adept in the fast-talking noir style Weigel's dialogue captures so well. Wryly clever lines move the tale forward briskly, but are also quotable, especially Lowell's noir narration asides: "She looked like she bench-pressed as much as she French pressed." They both emulate the style and poke fun at it — Bradley, for example, wonders why Lowell speaks to an audience he cannot see.
The actors are tirelessly inventive, particularly Demmy as a groundbreaking female noir investigator, but Kuerzi deserves special mention for performing Fishtown so well and then rushing to West Philly to give another superb high-energy performance in On the Rocks' The Groom's a Fag . . . Tribe of Fools' Fringe productions merit the troupe's must-see status.
What, When, Where
Fishtown: A Hipster Noir. By Caitlin Weigel, Peter Smith directed. Tribe of Fools. Through September 23, 2017, at the Louis Bluver Theatre at the Drake, 1512 Spruce Street, Philadelphia. Tickets available at FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318, or fringearts.com.
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