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The Philadelphia Fringe Festival just started, but in terms of joyful moments, it may be hard to top watching Charlotte Northeast transform herself into an ebullient teenager besotted by rock ‘n roll. In They’ve All Gone and We’ll Go Too, a Cannonball Festival show in this year’s Fringe, Northeast embodies the psychic pull of music on a young mind—what her character, Thompson, describes as “the lifeline, the rope in the water” that pulls you back to shore in your darkest moments.
Against the swell of the song by the Canadian outfit The Tragically Hip, which gives the brief play its title, Thompson dons a well-loved and slightly sunken t-shirt bearing the band’s emblem, then ties a black-and-white sock around her neck. For a brief moment, the middle-aged foibles she’s previously described melt away: her sense of rootlessness as a Canadian living in America, the worries about the connection she feels toward her growing son and the mysterious headaches that have troubled her since childhood. The music simply overtakes her, and she communes.
A bittersweet current underpins the thrilling moment. In 2016, The Hip’s founder, Gord Downie, announced a terminal cancer diagnosis, and the band embarked on one last tour. The meat of They’ve All Gone, which was written by Jared Michael Delaney from an idea by Northeast, concerns Thompson’s frantic attempt to land a ticket to the band’s farewell performance. Beyond what promises to be a great show, the event allows Thompson to linger for a moment in her rapidly deteriorating past. “The place I grew up doesn’t exist anymore,” she muses to an unseen interlocutor (voiced offstage by Delaney), so any tenuous connection counts.
Northeast brilliantly conveys the thin line between logic and obsession. She presents Thompson as a practical woman, a stoic survivor in one sense, who also carries the scars of being misunderstood and mistreated as a younger person. And she shows how discovering the right band at the right moment can truly be a life-altering experience. For Thompson, The Hip was the key that unlocked the world and made her feel less alone. Northeast conveys how getting that ticket feels like a life-or-death experience.
The 45-minute script moves briskly between trauma and triumph, and Northeast, Delaney, and director Damon Bonetti deserve credit for injecting welcome and unforced levity into a sensitive and difficult topic. Sound designer Christopher Colucci forcefully communicates the noise that plagues Thompson’s mind. Amid the nearly bare playing area of the Maas Building Studio, Shon Causer's lighting design subtly demarcates place and perspective.
They’ve All Gone and We’ll Go Too is the inaugural outing of 100th Meridian, a company formed by Northeast, Delaney, and Bonetti to explore the impact of music on everyday life. It’s a worthy endeavor that revels in the messy and meaningful connection we all feel toward the music of our youth. And based on these results, I say rock on.
Above: Communing with the music, and with us: Charlotte Northeast in They’ve All Gone and We’ll Go Too. (Image courtesy of 100th Meridian.)
What, When, Where
They’ve All Gone and We’ll Go Too. By Jared Michael Delaney, from an idea by Charlotte Northeast; directed by Damon Bonetti. Through September 10, 2023, at the Maas Building Studio, 1320 N 5th Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or phillyfringe.org.
The performance area is on the second floor and accessible by stairs only. Masks are required.
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