Philly Fringe reviews: ‘Fishtown’ and ‘Hello Blackout!’

 The cast of Tribe of Fools' 'Fishtown' poses in front of a sign in Fishtown. From left: Tara Demmy, Joseph Ahmed, Jenna Kuerzi, Zachary Chiero and Kyle Yackoski. (Photo courtesy Plate3 Photography)

The cast of Tribe of Fools' 'Fishtown' poses in front of a sign in Fishtown. From left: Tara Demmy, Joseph Ahmed, Jenna Kuerzi, Zachary Chiero and Kyle Yackoski. (Photo courtesy Plate3 Photography)

FishtownHoly wireless tamale! We’ve given our credit cards to online sites, our Social Security numbers to Equifax and now, Internet hackers have run off into the virtual night with our private information. And have you heard about Aimsley Enterprises? They’re using our profiles to enter our brains — and by never reading the fine print before we hit “accept,” we’ve signed our rights away!

The Aimsley part – okay, that’s not true. But it makes a great plot for the deliciously goofy “Fishtown,” from Tribe of Fools, the stage company that mixes social commentary, Philadelphia foibles and high-energy movement and fight scenes to come up with original shows.

Tribe of Fools has at least twice had a Philly Fringe dark-horse hit. “Fishtown,” a spoof of Internet piracy that opened Friday at the Fringe Festival, has all the signs of becoming another one. It’s the sort of show that gets a buzz among younger audiences – a big part of Tribe of Fools’ fans – because it bulges with hip references to lifestyle, Philly and in this show, technology. (Full disclosure: I understood only about two-thirds of the tech jokes but given the audience’s responses, I know the other third work.)

The subtitle of “Fishtown” is “A Hipster’s Noir,” and when the show isn’t being played in that film style, it’s in whatever style seems to fit the moment. The dialogue, popping with metaphors and similes, comes at you so quickly that some of it gets lost. But don’t get frustrated — there’s more to catch a few seconds later. The opening scene is a Spy vs. Spy dance with acrobatic moves, and dissolves into the beginning of the story, set at a detective agency in Fishtown.

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There, the overseer (Tara Demmy) is a hopelessly retro woman wedded to her flip phone. When she makes a phone call to respond to a text, her incredulous and super-wired partner (Zachary Chiero, also the show’s choreographer) blurts: “You called someone who was texting? Do you hate them?” They two get word that Aimsley Enterprises (slogan: “Living Life with the Best Version of Yourself”) is essentially hacking people’s minds. They investigate the bizarre company founder (Joseph Ahmed) and his undermining underling (Jenna Kuerzi) and learn that secret new plans will breach customers’ privacy and make virtual-reality goggles look like Ben Franklin’s specs.

Speaking of those goggles, at one point in the show a shadow (Kyle Yackoski, terrific as a silhouette behind a lighted scrim) finds a pair and, watch out – the ensuing dance by the cast to Judy Garland singing “Get Happy” is a knock-out. “Fishtown” has a winning script by Caitlin Weigel, plus a workable set and smooth direction by Peter Smith. It also has the feel of something original and surprising about a subject deeper than it appears at an evening of good fun. I’ve often felt that at Tribe of Fools productions._“Fishtown,” produced by Tribe of Fools, runs through Sept. 23 at the Louis Bluver Theatre to the east side of the Drake, on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets.

Hello Blackout!Yes, the five actors in “Hello Blackout!” are precise in their heavily controlled movement and overall discipline. Yes, the quintet accompanying them with tense chords and flashes of sound are excellent musicians who can play in utter darkness. And no, “Hello Blackout!” fails to work.

First off, consider context. “Hello, Blackout!” from New Paradise Laboratories is a prequel – it takes place before the time of another New Paradise play called “O Monsters” that was presented last year at FringeArts but not at the festival. You needn’t have seen that show to appreciate this one, according to folks at FringeArts, which curates this production.

Not quite. Unless you’ve read the Fringe material online or in the large booklet of Fringe listings, you’ll never know that “Hello Blackout” takes us back to the Big Bang, when a family of five from “O Monsters” — the Kissimmes — witness something like the creation of the universe. If you don’t know this, you’ll be sitting in virtual darkness through the first half of the show’s 75 minutes without a clue. There’s no way you’ll get that idea from the stage, where five characters wiggle and lurch and whimper and Thom Weaver’s light design flickers when it’s not purposely dull.

This is not the place for a discussion about whether you should have to read material in advance to understand a piece of theater. But except for cases when you might read a classic beforehand in order to understand its language, being forced to study beforehand sounds a lot like homework, not theater.

I’d be lying if I said I was clueless while watching “Hello Blackout!” — I knew the Big Bang premise before I went to see the production. Even with that knowledge, the show seems formless and senseless to me. It goes from its dark beginnings to a family scene with the Kissimmees that has nothing to do with what we’ve been looking at. (The scene, I think, is supposed to explain how Papa Kissimmee’s life ends, because he’s apparently not part of the second play, which I didn’t see. But how are we to know that?)

Certainly, the show is not about understanding the text — there’s little of that, none meaningful. The show’s program notes suggest that “when in doubt, let “Hello Blackout!” wash over you. But if it’s about feeling something that comes from the stage, I found nothing to feel except, at times of darkness, sleepiness.

New Paradise Laboratories, based here, has long been an innovator and tourer of outré work, devised by the company under Whit MacLaughlin’s direction. (MacLaughlin is also a masterful director of children’s theater.) Credit comes here: Many of the company’s shows are refreshingly bold, and one Fringe Festival piece from the past about a bachelor party, called “Batch” is brilliant. In this new show’s darkness, brilliance doesn’t figure._“Hello Blackout!” is produced by New Paradise Laboratories and runs through Sept. 17 at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake to the east side of the Drake Apartments, on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets.

The Philly Fringe Festival runs through Sept. 24. For more information:

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