In the late 19th century, in a small town in the Ukraine called Kulyenchikov, a schoolteacher arrives at the request of the town's local doctor. He is asked to educate the daughter of this medical man, and Leon Tolchinsky couldn't be more excited. That is, until he meets the residents of this small town.
Leon will fall madly in love with Sophia, the child of Doctor Zubritsky, but not before discovering the entire village is cursed with chronic stupidity and none of the residents capable of love. In just 24 hours he must break the curse in order to marry and live happy ever after.
Neil Simon's "Fools" sets the stage for this comic fable, a play laced with one-liners and ridiculous situations. As silly as the premise may seem, it is the talented cast that brings this production to life despite the simple material.
Matthew Rickard (Leon) in a truly ebullient performance conveys his character's ambitious and hysterical nature with ease. As the doctor (Alexander Cook) and his wife (Stacey Geer) both actors are comfortable with the dialogue and play the dim characters to the hilt as most of the piece centers around their family. There are a host of funny villagers, most notably Snetsky, the sheep loser (Mike Daniels) and Slovitch the butcher (Brad W. Kirton) who use their brief comic moments wisely.
Sophia (Alyssa Gorgone) the doctor's daughter is a relatively small part but Gorgone makes it shine as the hopelessly dim but very pretty young girl. It is the Count Gregor character, whose ancestor is responsible for the curse of stupidity on the town, that truly steals the show.
Bruce Warren as Gregor Mikhailovitch Breznofsky Fyodor Yousekevitch (try pronouncing that three times quickly) truly takes the role to comic heights with an over the top accent and hilarious gestures, and the audience loves it. Director Amiee Turner is clearly capable of a much more complicated show, easily guiding this talented cast.
Kimberly V. Powers colorful set design is perfect for the light comic material. "Fools" was written by Simon in a relatively slow period in his career; it has been said that he wrote it as a result of an agreement with then-wife Marsha Mason during divorce proceedings. Mason would have been promised the profits of the play, and he wrote something that wouldn't last.
Indeed, "Fools" opened and closed in 1981 after just 40 performances, but these rumors have not been substantiated. It must also be noted that the show was adapted in 1990 as a musical by Ted Kopulos in San Jose, California with a new title and the addition of a new character.
The show does work as a light comic piece clearly not meant to be taken seriously but as escapist fluff entertainment. For this, we are happy to meet these "Fools."
The Rhode Island premier of this Simon play marks the Grand Opening of the Ocean State Theater Company's new state-of-the-art venue in Warwick for its Inaugural Season. The company is the same not-for-profit that brought new life to RI's Theater By The Sea.
"Fools" runs through Feb. 10 at The Ocean State Theater Company, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard Warwick, RI. For tickets or info, call 401-921-1777 or visit OceanStateTheater.org.