In search for a sentimental space to scatter their father’s ashes, siblings Lee and Joey have settled on a worthy place – a Wawa parking lot.
This type of quirky tale with heartfelt foundation speaks to the mission of Tribe of Fools, a local troupe founded by West Passyunk resident Terry Brennan in 2003.
Like their past productions, which touched on topics such as gentrification and gender norms, the company’s new FringeArts production “Operation: Wawa Road Trip” explores another weighty subject – grief.
With a pallet of theatrical mediums in their back pockets, Tribe of Fools utilizes dramatic physicality, such as clowning or acrobats, to convey individuals’ internal psyche.
“There are so many experiences that, to any individual, feel monumental – whether they be positive or negative,” Brennan said. “Whether you’re going through a tough time or you landed something great – it feels monumental but to the outside, if somewhere else where to look at it…When you’re not involved, sometimes it’s hard to see the epic proportions you feel for these things. And, so the reason we’re so physical is we want to bring the sort of epic nature to regular stories.”
Written by Caitlin Corkery, the new production, which runs through Sept. 21 at Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 312 Hicks St., tells the story of two siblings in their 20s who embark on a road trip from Dayton, Ohio to Philadelphia – their hometown – where they intend to scatter their recently-departed father’s ashes in the parking lot of a local Wawa.
For the characters, and even some of the show’s crew, Wawa evokes emotions beyond hoagie cravings. Rather, it represents something that often feels vanished after losing a loved one – a sense of home.
This relationship with the convenience store is especially true for the show’s director, Joseph Ahmed, a Lower Moyamensing resident and Tribe of Fools company member, who says growing up in the Philadelphia region, Wawa has always served as an anchor.
“I’ve always been really fascinated by how much myself and other people in this area really attach strong loyalty and meaning to Wawa,” Ahmed said. “So, in many ways, talking about Wawa, because we always like to have some sort of Philly-centric element to our shows, talking about Wawa really began with having a conversation about home. What home means to people and what family means to different people.”
Throughout their journey along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the siblings stumble upon a series of curious characters, such as the Millers – a tight-knit family of Croc-wearing conspiracy theorists who believe the earth is flat and say 9/11 was an inside job.
Though comprised of soda cave trolls, imaginary wizard friends and a major Sheetz vs. Wawa battle, the zany trip across Pennsylvania generates opportunities for the siblings to grow – both as individuals and closer toward one another as they cope with their recent loss.
“Anybody who’s lost a family parent, it’s huge,” Brennan said. “It has such a profound impact on the way you see the world for such a long time if not for forever. So, it’s really about taking that story and really getting into this family relationship and really showing it to us in this very surreal and silly ways.”
Ahmed, who also recently lost a close family member, says their travels, perhaps, represent a deeper journey in the wake of a death.
In parsing through his own experience, Ahmed says the way that grief affects the sense of home is a palpable idea – both in terms of how it changes a family and how it changes places.
“I think, in many ways, the impetus to start on a journey, which is something that I think I recognized in myself in dealing with grief is – the desire to sort of either fix things in an easy way or to sort of running away from the feeling,” Ahmed said. “To sort of find some kind of quick avenue to handle or wrap things up in a bow when you’re feeling this huge thing.”
Once the siblings arrive at the Wawa, though, the store does not feel quite as thrilling as they once remember. Something does not feel the same – and it’s not just the new touch screens for ordering refreshments.
But, maybe the store hasn’t changed at all. Instead, it could not fill a particular void for the siblings.
“It’s all about remembering this place that, as kids, just seemed like magic, but they come to the realization – it is just a place,” Brennan said. “It is just a convenience store…Anytime you fall in love with a place you don’t live in anymore, you tend to exaggerate the good things and tend to minimize the things that were challenging. And, (Lee’s) realization is that it’s just another place. It didn’t solve her problems. It didn’t make her grief about her dad go away.”
The team behind “Operation: Wawa Road Trip” say they hope the production inspires audiences to reach out to loved ones, especially those individuals we don’t see often.
“Beyond that, I think it’s really true that people understand family and grief and have big understandings of home in unique ways,” Ahmed said. “…So, I hope that people walk away thinking about the unique ways that they grieve and navigate family and how that connects to their own lives.”
For more information on the show, visit: fringearts.com/event/operation-wawa-road-trip/.