The Ocean State Theatre Company officially begins its inaugural season with Neil Simon's Fools, a light-hearted and zany tale of breaking curses and finding true love.
Schoolteacher Leon Tolchinsky (Matthew Rickard) arrives in the small Ukrainian town of Kulyenchikov, brimming with enthusiasm at the prospect of educating young minds. The philosophical, highly-intellectual young man's hopes are soon shattered when he discovers the entire town is under a centuries-old curse: the residents are doomed to chronic stupidity and not one of them can truly experience love.
When informed that he has a mere 24 hours to break the curse before he, too, becomes a victim of its mind-altering idiocy, Tolchinsky is ready to immediately flee the scene in horror. Only falling head-over-heels in love with Sophia, his beautiful if delightfully dim pupil, roots him to Kulyenchikov and makes him single-mindedly determined to free the town from generations of foolishness.
Though Fools begins with an engaging premise, some zinging one-liner jokes and amusing physical comedy, its repetitious gags grow tiresome fairly quickly, especially in the first act. Sophia's selection of "rabbit" as her preferred foreign language study creates an engaging and humorous scene, but Simon's distinctive comic touch feels strained as the characters confuse up for down and fish for flowers one too many times. Alexander Cook's Dr. Zubritsky has some of the best lines in act one, and his dry, unaffected delivery keeps the otherwise stilted exposition moving along.
Act two picks up considerably as Tolchinsky's plan for saving Kulyenchikov goes into play. Rickard performs an amusing pantomime as the teacher attempts various methods to instruct Sophia, his frustration comically palpable when they can move no further than her adding one plus one.
Bruce Warren as Fools' villain, Count Yousekevitch, steals the spotlight in the second act. Warren's character has some of the funniest lines of the entire production, and he easily engages the audience both while immersed in his role and when breaking the fourth wall to address them directly.
The penultimate wedding scene is the most cohesive of the entire storyline, and the actors make full use of the moment when all of their characters seem to hit their stride together. Patrick Mulvihill shines as Kulyenchikov's magistrate, officiating the marriage vows and attempting to keep the ceremony on track despite a number of absurd interruptions.
Fools' fairy-tale quality extends to OSTC's candy-colored sets and costumes. The Zubritsky home opens, doll-house style, to transform the stage from the main roads of Kulyenchikov to the interior parlor of the doctor's living room, and a combination of painted set pieces with three-dimensional features ties in nicely with presenting Fools as a storybook fable.
Performances of Neil Simon's Fools run through February 10, 2013 at the Ocean State Theatre Company. Tickets range from $30-47 and can be purchased online at OceanStateTheatre.org, by phone (401) 921-6800, or at the OSTC box office, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick, RI. Rush tickets are available. Call (401) 921-1777 x 112 for information on group discounts.
Photo by Mark Turek.