Monday, March 18, 2013
Theater review: Fools fails to impress despite the quality of actors and designers
Feel free to skip this one.
IRVING Great set design, wonderful acting, fun lighting, and a baffling script await audiences at ICT Mainstage. Fools, by Neil Simon, is a zany farce set in a small Ukrainian town in the late 1890s, addled with a curse. A young teacher arrives in town to educate the local doctor’s daughter, falls in love, and runs afoul of the local authority. Hilarity ensues. However, no amount of effort by the cast, director or designers can save the purposefully poorly written script. It might be better to just ignore this production.
Ellen Doyle Mizener ran with the nonsensical style of the show and designed the set in a children's cartoon style. The buildings have a fantastic two-dimensional forced perspective, while the castle in the background, trees, and fountain all lie flat to the audience, making everything appear like a children's book in great detail.
The costumes help greatly in the cartoon effect of the show. The townspeople are dressed plainly while the important characters, Leon Tolchinsky, Gregor Yousekevitch, and Sophia Zubritsky, are all dressed in much brighter, attention grabbing colors. Their clothes are not in any garish style but do fit the overall show design. Gregor Yousekevitch's costume pays special homage to the zany Harlequin characters of Commedia dell'arte.
Sam Nance uses basic colors (e.g. red, blue, green) across the cyclorama in his lighting design to convey moods while keeping to the childishly simple production design. His use of specialty lighting instruments for clouds, lightening, even an idea bulb, are wonderful. The clouds especially take on eerie properties.
Musically, the pre-show and intermission music is perfect. Listening carefully, one notices that the music chosen is orchestrations from famous cartoons. In an attempt to contribute to the cartoon nature of the design, some unnecessary musical pieces make their way into the production. Director Dave Schmidt attempts to highlight certain lines with a musical bed but sparing use and lack of consistency makes it only a minor annoyance.
Despite the nearly senseless script, the actors in Fools give outstanding performances. Each broad character is portrayed true to their nature with subtle eccentricities. The actors’ skill in this production is invested in creating empathy in the audience for their characters.
Nick Haley is the glue that holds the show together with asides to the audience to ensure they know what is happening. As the professor, brought to town to teach the doctor's daughter and lift the curse, he is sharp-witted and quick with the tongue.
The townspeople are a lovable bunch of fools played by Michael McNiel, Clayton Cunningham, Craig Boleman, James West, and Sherry Etzel.
Doctor Zubritsky and his wife, Lenya, played by Allen Matthews and Angela Allen, are as entertaining as they are foolish, enthusiastically portraying their roles and injecting life into any scene in which they participate. Their daughter, Sophia Zubritsky, played by Bailey Lawrence, is lovely and unwittingly more logical than the rest of the town.
Finally, Nick Keller as Gregor Yousekevitch, plays up his ineptitude grandly while readily identifying himself as the villain.
Eventually, I thought I understood Fools. I assumed the society of fools is a metaphor for contemporary political climates. The show culminates with a thinly veiled statement about how a wise leader will lift the curse of foolishness and society will flourish once more. However, it appears my assumption was wrong. When I got home and read some background I discovered Fools was allegedly written as part of a divorce agreement, in which Neil Simon's ex-wife would receive all the profits from his next play. In response, Simon apparently wrote the worst show he was capable of, intending for it to fail on Broadway, which it did.
Fools only played 40 performances in 1981. This follows in the tradition of such artists as Marvin Gaye and his album Here, My Dear. All this leads to the question: Why does anybody, let alone ICT Mainstage, choose to produce it?
Thankfully, Fools is a short play, only 90 minutes plus a 15 minute intermission. Although the set design and acting can be appreciated, there is no pressing need to see this production.
Pegasus News Content partner - John Garcia's The Column
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