The problem for Ronnie and Jules is not that they’re gay and falling for each other. The problem is, the relationship appears star-crossed from the very start: They’re members of two different Mummers brigades.
“Two Street: A Tale of Star-Crossed Mummers” is “Romeo & Romeo” from the South Philadelphia-based theater artists called Tribe of Fools, whose caustic but caring looks at Philadelphia culture have provided memorable Fringe Festival moments over the years. At least twice, they’ve created a dark-horse Fringe hit – a hot ticket for a small show that got a sudden high-pitched buzz.
No group plumbs the social culture of Philadelphia the way Tribe of Fools does. Terry Brennan, the artistic director who staged the energetic, raw-nerved, rough-and-tumble “Two Street,” has a way of getting a cast to see the city from the bottom up – the troupe discovers the richness of Philly by entering through the sewer grates and eventually finding the skyline. At past Fringes, they discovered the meaning of macho by tracing the tribulations of a South Philly guy who secretly liked to perform artistic dance. Last year in the Fringe, they took on the Parking Authority in a show about resistance, Philly-style.
“Two Street” is written by Brennan, Nick Mazzuca and Peter Smith, with additional text by the entire ensemble – a fast job, I heard, that was still a concept six weeks ago. If that’s true, the group must work best under deadline pressure, because “Two Street” is a well-rehearsed and staged Fringe entry that – if you’re in the mood for slithering in South Philly gravel – is also a hoot.
If you’re a member of the language police, stay away; “Two Street” surely wins the Fringe’s F-bomb and raw-talk award. It’s enormously physical – a Tribe of Fools trademark – with dancing, fighting and a ton of street-style posing. It can be nasty and rough-minded, the way it portrays Philly street-culture and Mummers competition and even falling in love. Characters who value family and loyalty over everything – good sons and daughters who respect their elders — will talk to each other in the most aggressively racy ways available, and sometimes about their families and their loyalties.
In other words, it seems just like the South Philly we believe exists, whether or not that approaches an accurate image. The cast, led by Zachary Chiero and Peter Andrew Danzig as the star-crossed Mummers, performs “Two Street” without a whiff of pretense or even a wink to the audience, making it a sincere characterization of an outrageous extreme. It’s likely we’ll buy into “Two Street” because the portrayal seems genuine.
Along the way “Two Street” knocks TV commentary and the themes that Mummers use for their routines, in a way that’s so funny you don’t realize how pointed it is until you think about it later. Chiero and Danzig have a comic-book chemistry that’s potent, and Isa St. Clair is a stitch as a potty-mouth take-no-prisoners worldly sister who keeps the clubhouse in place and her brother in tow. Peter Smith is the heavy – but being heavy here means that you have the right because your basic values have been challenged. Karina Balfour plays the Mummer costumer who takes no guff after her limit’s been reached. Brennan himself, plus Leah Holleran and Kyle Yackoski, are the other Mummers , and everyone moves in a flash to Tim Popp’s bang-bang choreography and Michael Cosenza’s flight direction. Tribe of Fools is a small group without the finances of larger Fringe producers, but Becca Austin, the costume designer tackling Mummers frippery, makes the costumes fun, with nary a feather in sight.
The most revealing aspect about “Two Street,” and about Tribe of Fools, is that the show, hell-bent in its portrayal of knock-’em-dead street life, is also sweet and inviting. And highly nuanced: You come out of it laughing at Philly, as if the city is one big foible, and loving it, too.
–“Two Street,” from Tribe of Fools, runs through Sept. 22 at the theater in the rear of the Church of the Crucifixion, on Eighth Street between South and Bainbridge Streets. http://fringearts.com/event/two-street-a-tale-of-star-crossed-mummers-12
For information about the Philly Fringe Festival: www.fringearts.com