Here’s what you get when you mix over-hyped masculinity, comic book heroes and the Philadelphia Parking Authority: the sock-’em show called “Antihero,” this year’s Fringe offering by Tribe of Fools.
The local theater company, which has a street-smart Philly sensibility and the skills of a dance company as well, has for a few years produced the dark horse hit of the Fringe festival. “Antihero” is a creation of its seven quick-moving cast members, who perform the play while taking pratfalls, bouncing off walls and battling one another in demanding scenes staged with precision by fight choreographer Michael Cosenza. Robin Stift is the acrobatics coach for the show – and if you see “Antihero” you’ll know why it needs both fight and acrobatics supervisors.
The show is plot-driven and smart – a look, through a woman’s eyes, at the way males in a comic book store compete to be top macho, like their comic heroes. The store owner (Zachary Chiero), a comics nerd, puts up with a host of regular customers, including a Philadelphia Parking Authority ticket officer who stands for all things done perfectly right (if you want, call him a meter maid, played by Kyle Yackoski) and a dude with no mentioned name (Peter Smith) who fights the system.
Into the store comes a woman (Colleen Hughes) doing her doctoral thesis on “the contemporary regressive post-adult male.” She’s contemporary herself, being a member of a rock group called Vaginal Anarchy, which donates the performance money it makes to charity. The current charity of choice is the family of a hopped-up human rap-sheet, killed in pursuit by four Philadelphia cops, who whomped him outside the comic book store.
These are the threads the cast uses to tie the gritty plot of “Antihero” together. (The other performers and co-creators are Carolina Millard, Leah Holleran and Tim Popp.) The cast is terrific – and the show has a rough-around-the-edges feel that fits perfectly with its street-life setting. The cast is also the stage crew, changing sets between scenes in a movement style that mixes a military crispness with rap, hip-hop and leaps from the top of the backdrop, for good measure.
A sense of measure is “Antihero” what it lacks. As great as the action scenes are — this cast seems to stop at nothing – those scenes are too much of a very good thing. They could be cut by five to 10 minutes, and there’d still be about 20 minutes of top-notch, beautifully stylized fight dancing through the show. As it is, there’s so much of it, the action slows down the … action, and by that I mean the storyline.
That storyline is also performed with too many silent beats — particularly some of the scenes inside the comic-book store. “Antihero” is directed by Terry Brennan, a founding member and guiding force of Tribe of Fools, and I couldn’t tell whether some of the give-and-take between arguing characters was intentionally split-second in an attempt to enlarge the tension or whether the cast was having an off night on Sunday. Whatever, the tiny bit of slow pickup put a slight but definite dent in an explosive script.
That script is what makes all the other parts of “Antihero” — the in-your-face arguments, the dancing teases of menace, the precisely timed comic-book violence — more than just a finely staged skit. It asks the questions that drive everything else: Is there such a thing as being absolutely right? And what happens when you find out that someone else, someone with a very different mindset, someone you suspect is some sort of idiot, is as right as you?_
“Antihero” runs through Sept. 14 at the theater space in the Church of the Crucifixion, on Eighth Street between South and Bainbridge Streets. For information on all FringeArts shows in the festival, including dates, times and venues, visit www.fringearts.com