Sunday, February 19, 2017

Faulkner: "Fools"

Neil Simon is one of the most prolific living American playwrights whose witty comedies regularly appear on Broadway and in theatres around the world. Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, and Brighton Beach Memoirs are among the best known pieces; yet there are a number of lesser known works that also contain his signature verbal dexterity and clever situations -- Fools [1981] is one of these that is currently on offer at the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre.

Directed by Jason Clark South on Matt Dickson's flexibly moveable stage, the 10-member ensemble acting company make the most of Simon's one joke script: everyone in a remote Ukranian village except their new schoolmaster Leon Tolchinsky [Hunter Lee Smith] have been cursed with "stupidity" for the last 200 years; and once it is established that they take everything literally, can't add or subtract or even sit down without difficulty, don't know their own names, and have to be reminded that something happened just seconds ago, the conceit wears thin and the jokes are anticipated before they are spoken.

Once Leon meets his pupil Sophia Zubritsky [Emily McAliley] and falls instantly in love with her, he determined to break the curse by educating her and marrying her  within 24-hours or have to leave the town or become "stupid" like the rest of them. -- Sophia's parents, Dr. Zubritsky [Morgan Baker] and his wife Lenya [Catherine Allbritton], are all in favor of the match, but, like all the townspeople, are too "stupid" to help in any meaningful way; and marriage to Count Gregor [Ian Bruce looking like Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula and who comes twice a day to propose to Sophia] could also break the curse.

Much of the fun in this production comes from the commitment the actors give to their "stupid" characters; though they are not formally educated, they do show a remarkable ability to make a lot of sense. And the close family relationships and concern for the improvement of the town by removing the curse show them to be smart in other ways.

There is a lot of silliness at hand, but behind it are some important lessons in human behavior. "Love" is an unknown to the town, but Leon shows them the way; family and a citizenry concerned for the well-being of the town say a lot about the basic needs of everyone. -- And when the townspeople are told that they have been brainwashed into believing they all inherited their "stupidity" and that "you are only 'stupid' if you believe it", the curse is broken: basic Psychology 101.

This is Neil Simon in a minor key; but even in a minor key, there is a lot to enjoy.