The latest Fringe offering from Tribe of Fools, Operation Wawa Road Trip, playing through September 21 at the Drake, is beautifully done. The show is actually the most fun I’ve had at a play in years. So why did I leave frustrated?
Compelling and well-considered
The Drake venue is easy to find and negotiate, well-lit, and spacious. The set design for the play is inventive and compelling, including a virtual radio station, WTOF. The design solution for the script’s functioning car is especially smart. The sound design, both musical and atmospheric, is on point throughout. Even the use of green gels in the pre-show lighting plot (informally banned due to long-held theatrical superstition) tells us something is amiss.
The cast is solid all the way through, especially in their physical work, with leads Jahzeer Terrell as Joey and Taiwo Sokan as Lee standing out. Not only are the ensemble’s bodies expressive; every performer has truly outstanding range of, and nuance in, their movement. The direction by Joseph Ahmed, a longtime Tribe of Fools company member, is careful and considered, with each choice building on the last, driving (both metaphorically and literally) the plot forward.
So what’s the trouble?
The Curse of Jake Elliott
Since football season is here, let’s call it the Curse of Jake Elliott. On September 24, 2017, in his rookie year, Jake Elliot hit a 61-yard field goal on the final play of the game. This field goal is not only the longest in Eagles history, it is tied for the fourth-longest in modern NFL history, dating back to the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. While logically I understand this is a remarkable feat, emotionally I expect Jake Elliott to make every 61-yard field goal he attempts, because I know he can.
Mourning and laughs
Operation Wawa Road Trip is a missed 61-yard field goal of a play. The show is about a brother and a sister on a journey from Dayton to Philadelphia in order to scatter their father’s ashes in the parking lot of his favorite Wawa. There is a chance here to make a truly profound statement about mourning the death of a father, and the lengths to which people will travel (literally and figuratively) for a beloved family member. While some gestures are made in this direction, such as an intentionally overwrought crying scene which reminded me of the Wooster Group at their height of inventiveness, in the end Tribe of Fools never fully engages with the questions surrounding mourning a parent.
There’s also an ill-advised plot twist which effectively ends any opportunity for them to address such questions. If Tribe of Fools were a less stellar company I would have left frustration-free, but such is the problem of extraordinary talent. My unrealistically high standards aside, this is a wonderfully enjoyable theatrical experience. If you need a laugh (and who doesn’t these days), run and see Operation Wawa Road Trip.
What, When, Where
Operation Wawa Road Trip. By Tribe of Fools, directed by Joseph Ahmed. Through September 21, 2019 at the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 302 South Hicks Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
The Drake Theatre complex is fully accessible, though wheelchair users will need assistance with the heavy front doors. Wheelchair seating, companion seating, and mobility and audiovisual-accessible seating is available for all performances. Seating requests can be made prior to the performance by calling (215) 568-8079 or emailing [email protected]. The Drake has gender-neutral restrooms.