A toasty “ahhh” arose from the audience, as the curtain parted to reveal a stupendous set on a freezing opening night for Neil Simon’s FOOLS, directed by Jim Carroll. Soon, warm waves of laughter wafted steadily towards the stage. Simon’s farcical fable follows a schoolteacher’s efforts to educate a stunningly beautiful young woman in Kulyenchikov, a town that has been under a “stupid” curse for 200 years. The townsfolk are whacked with nitwittedness; a butcher sweeps dirt under the door of his shop from the outside in, a shepherd who doesn’t even know his first name can’t find his sheep, the mail carrier can’t read, people do dusting by putting dust on things, and so on. The teacher, Leon Tolchinsky (perkily portrayed by Josiah Donnell), vows to break the curse by giving simple lessons to the lovely Sophia (wittily played by Liz Iannucci) so that she will not be forced to save the fate of the town by marrying Count Gregor (great presence and ‘tremble’ by Thomas-Robert Irvin), an ancestor of the originator of the curse. Leon has only 24 hours to complete his mission, but as he attempts to educate Sophia, he is smitten by her beauty and swiftly falls under her spell of loveliness, placing himself in more peril than he may be able to handle…
In an interview with James Lipton of the Paris Review (1992, No. 125), Neil Simon states that “FOOLS was an experiment that didn’t work”. It’s certainly a show that can present challenges, one being is that it’s not easy to believably portray these characters. It takes quick wit and smart timing to successfully pull it off such stupidity, and this along with lots of talent and a healthy side of camp did the trick in this production. Josiah Donnell with his bouyant charm is well cast for his part as Leon Tolchinsky. Paul Kerrigan and Lorraine Barrett are well paired as Dr. and Mrs. Zubritsky. Barrett’s facial expressions and physicality on stage are hysterical, and Kerrigan’s reactions are well suited. Liz Iannucci’s portrayal of their daughter Sophia is well done and exquisitely funny. Slovitch the butcher is smartly played by David Owen Cashell, whose comedic timing is tops, and “Something, Something” Snetsky is something special as played by Ken Fischer, and Bob Dimond does the Magistrate proud. Lauri Jacob’s Yenchna has proper attitude and Mishkin the mailmaid is deftly done by Michele Nicolay. Lastly, but mostly hilarious, is Thomas-Robert Irvin’s stage stealing rendition of Count Gregor. This cast makes FOOLS work very well indeed.
The set (Jolene Petrowski) was given applause at the beginning of the show, and costumes (Betsy Berwick, Cindy Schneeman) are well done and appropriate. Lighting (Charlie Hoover) was excellently conceived and executed, subtly complementing the set, the action, and the players.
The Players Club of Swarthmore’s FOOLS is a rollicking fun play and a great way to warm up with this wintry season with some hearty laughter!
by Neil Simon
Directed by Jim Carroll
January 9 – 24, 2015
The Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081