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Theater Review: Fools at Ocean State Theatre

Monday, January 28, 2013

 

Neil Simon may have written this joke-infested comedy to keep an ex-wife from making too much money, but Fools still has lessons to offer.

It is difficult to argue that there are many layers to a foolish person. But Neil Simon's play, Fools, challenges that assumption by giving its audience a surprising amount of intellectual depth. While Fools may seem ridiculous and even childish on the surface, at its core it makes bold statements about how fruitful a life of intelligence is as opposed a life of blissful ignorance.

Fools certainly has an interesting track record. After divorcing his wife, Neil Simon agreed that she would receive the proceeds from his next play. Fools opened in 1981 and closed after a mere 40 performances as if Simon intentionally wrote a comedy that could not last on Broadway. Yet, Fools has traveled back into the favor of the public eye and onto the stage of the Ocean State Theatre.

Directed by Amiee Turner, the comedy features a young Russian school teacher named Leon Tolchinsky who attempts to liberate the remote village of Kulyenchikov, Ukraine ,from a curse of stupidity that has afflicted them for over 200 years under the reign of the despicable Count Gregor. Leon quickly notices there is something not quite right about the town due to everyone's painful lack of intelligence, yet he nevertheless falls deeply in love with the town doctor's daughter Sophia Zubritsky. If Leon does not succeed in removing this curse of ignorance from Kulyenchikov within 24 hours, he will fall under this curse of idiocy along with his love Sophia and the rest of Kulyenchikov.

Idiotic inundation

Fools deliberately and almost relentlessly displays the mind-numbing idiocy of the inhabitants of Kulyenchikov. Every effort Leon makes to discover why the inhabitants are cursed and how to release them from its confines becomes saturated with the stupidity of the town inhabitants. This ranges from the locals asking why Leon says "I can't say I know the answer" if he can clearly say "I know the answer", or Sophia telling Leon that she would prefer him to kiss her with his lips instead of a full heart of love. Another memorable moment of this mind-blowing stupidity is where Dr. Zubritsky tells his wife to lower her voice and she squats down wile talking to "lower her voice."

While a few of this instances certainly produce chuckles from the crowd, it soon feels like the audience is being bludgeoned with the stupid stick. These one-liner comedic approaches on how an idiot perceives the world face the danger of losing their effectiveness because they are used so often.

Awesome acting

In a play filled with ridiculousness and foolery, the balance between keeping the audience laughing and avoiding an overload of jokes is difficult to maintain. Matthew Rickard provides a refreshing performance as Leon by making the Russian teacher's thirst for knowledge genuine and his intellect among all the idiocy refreshing. Stacey Geer as Dr. Zubritsky's wife Lenya rises to the challenge of portraying sheer lack of intellect--it takes complete commitment from an actor to make the audience believe their character is that moronic. Geer fearlessly dives into this role.

Deeper meaning

Although Fools hurls an excess of silly jokes at the audience, there is still something profoundly meaningful about the play. When Leon finally lifts the curse from Kulyenchikov, newfound intelligence brings a range of good and bad fortune to its inhabitants. For example, Dr. Zubritsky stands up to the antagonist Count Gregor and claims that power is a useless tool against the enlightened. The liberty to choose their destinies, something the town people have never possessed, is now theirs to keep. Although the magistrate experiences misfortune by being tempted by greed in politics, Dr. Zubritsky's previously moronic wife finds her passion in fighting for women's rights and becomes the first woman mayor of Kulynchikov. Regardless of the results, the people of Kulyenchikov can now cherish the fact that they have shed their idiotic illusion of contentment and can now see the world through their own enlightened perspective.

Will there be plenty of moments where Fools' jokes will drive you a bit crazy? I would say so. Yet, the only way to appreciate Fools is to look past the silly jokes and search for the more intricate details.

Fools through Feb 10, Ocean State Theatre Company, 1245 Jefferson Blvd, Warwick, (401) 921-6800. www.oceanstatetheatre.org

 

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