Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

You Shouldn't Be Doing What You're Doing on That Ladder
Tribe of Fools
Review by Rebecca Rendell | Season Schedule

Also see Rebeca's review of Rachel

Peter Smith
Photo by Dallas Padoven Photography
For Philadelphia Theater Week 2020 the always exciting Tribe of Fools company is presenting the world premiere of You Shouldn't Be Doing What You're Doing on That Ladder. Actor Peter Smith and director Charlotte Northeast co-created this unusual performance which combines acrobatics, mime, clown, and circus arts to tell a personal story about living with depression. There is not much in the way of dialogue, three ladders are the only set, and there are all of two props, but Smith creates a vivid and engaging world. When the ladder teeters on the edge of collapse, we hold our breath. When Smith bangs out reps at the gym, we want to cheer. When he cannot make it up the last four rungs, we want to reach out and help.

While there is no traditional story arc, You Shouldn't Be Doing What You're Doing on That Ladder is made up of three distinct segments. In the first, Smith employs his considerable balance, flexibility, acrobatic skill, and charm to introduce himself and his ladders. A short Vegas-style circus act with one small ladder—Robin Stamey's clever lighting design takes the moment over the top—leads to the "discovery" of a larger ladder behind. His attempts to mount that ladder using only the instructions and warning labels on its side are hilarious and more than a little nerve-wracking. And of course, there is another even larger ladder just waiting to be found.

The second segment is a pantomime of two days in Smith's life, as the ladders become his bed, a dog, the car, or gym equipment as needed. Smith's execution in these sequences is spectacular. The action is completely clear and the jokes land in quick succession. That is, until some strange creatures start messing with Smith's head in the night. After that, all of the activities that brought him joy one day seem difficult and pointless the next. In the final section, the increasingly doleful Smith explicitly attempts to do a trick for the audience but find himself unable to finish. The segment is heartbreaking, but it goes on for just a little too long.

Peter Smith seems like the kind of guy who would give you a ride home after a late night out, even if it meant going twenty minutes in the wrong direction. That sense of generosity and earnest vulnerability shines through the entire production. There are a lot of cool tricks and really funny bits, but it is Smith's personality—and the way he fearlessly puts it out there for everyone to see—that makes this production meaningful.

Tribe of Fools' You Shouldn't Be Doing What You're Doing on That Ladder runs through February 22, 2020, at 200 Spring Garden Street, Unit C, Philadelphia PA. Tickets: $15-$20. For tickets and information, please visit

Director: Charlotte Northeast
Performer: Peter Smith
Stage Manager: Lindsay Drucker
Lightening Designer: Robin Stamey
Sound Designer: Kyle Yackoski
Master Electrician: Sydney Norris