Review: ‘Fools’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater

Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents Neil Simon’s Fools, the comedic tongue-in-cheek fable that became a hit in spite of itself. Popular theory contends that Simon, who wrote this play as a part of an embittered divorce settlement, intended it to flop. Though it wasn’t popular on Broadway, the kooky piece has become a cult classic, especially among community theaters. With a sizeable cast and a wide range for creative interpretation both on and offstage, a theatre troupe can have a lot of fun with this piece. From the start, it’s clear that this is exactly what Aldersgate did.

Johnie Hays (Page) and Scott Stofka (Count Gregor). Photo by Becky Patton.
Johnie Hays (Page) and Scott Stofka (Count Gregor). Photo by Victor Fisher.

Director Becky Patton also designed the set for this production–bright, vibrant, and (I’ll just say it) LOUD, it almost looks as if it were lifted from the pages of a comic book. Constructed by TJ and Lise Downing and John Hays, the stage becomes Kulyenchikov, a 19th-century Russian village caught in a curse that makes its inhabitants helplessly foolish.

Master Electrician Marg Soroos works with Jeffrey Auerbach and Kimberly Cargo (lighting design) and David Corriea (sound design) to enhance the atmosphere (I especially liked how the lights flickered ominously whenever someone dared to speak the name of the sorcerer who cursed them).

Costume Designer Amy Patterson completes the tone nicely, giving each character a ridiculous trait of some sort, my favorite being a stick-on moustache that hangs off of its character’s upper lip throughout the second half of the show.

Brian Selcik (Leon) and Olivia Hays (Sophia). Photo by Victor Fisher.
Brian Selcik (Leon) and Olivia Hays (Sophia). Photo by Victor Fisher.

When a young school master named Leon Tolchinsky (Brian Selcik) moves to Kulyenchikov, he is eager to take on the challenge of this town–until he realizes that their problem lies within dark magic, and that if he cannot break the curse within 24 hours, he will fall victim to it as well. The task is a heavy one, seemingly insurmountable, and while a smart person would leave the village immediately, the first thing Leon does is something foolish indeed–he falls in love. Sophia Zubritsky (Olivia Hays) steals his heart with her pure and gentle (if woefully simpleminded) nature, and he finds himself determined to save her from the curse’s clutches…or become himself a simpleton. Snarks Leon, “if only she were ugly, I’d be halfway home by now.”

While the overall performances themselves could stand some polishing, the cast upholds the story nicely, and shows some real talent and potential. I especially enjoyed Scott Stofko as the brooding Gregor Youskevitch, descendant of the evil sorcerer who cursed their town and persistent suitor of Sophia (because of course he would be, right?).

Richard Isaacs brings a very Groucho Marx vibe to the stage as Dr. Zubritsky, Sophia’s father, who shares the majority of the play’s jokes with his wife, Lenya (Karen Toth). The two have a playful back-and-forth, usually taking the meaning of a phrase and turning it on his head. An example of this is when he closes a book that engulfs his face in a cloud of dust and says, “I thought you dusted the books?” to which Lenya replies, “yes, I put dust on them yesterday.” Full of quippy puns and slapstick physical humor, the people of Kulyenchikov will leave you giggling.

Reason has become unreasonable, and sense insensible. The town vendor,  (a flirty and fun performance by Joyce Tischer) brandishes bunches of flowers at the townspeople, selling them as “fresh fish” (because she ran out of literal fish to sell, and hey, why can’t flowers be fish anyway?), and later tries to pawn them off as umbrellas when it starts to rain. However, with all their ignorance, there is an underlying wisdom that this town possesses…and it may be the key to everything. With an exasperated Leon frantically trying to teach Sophia simple equation before time runs out, he may find himself too preoccupied to realize that he may be able to learn something from her.

Karen Toth (Leyna), Richard Isaacs (Dr. Zubritsky), Brian Selcik (Leon), Howard Soroos (Magistrate), Olivia Hays (Sophia), John Hays (Slovitch), Jim Pearson (Snetsky), Gilbert Jones (Mishkin), and Joyce Tischer (Yenchna). Photo by Victor Fisher.
L to R: Karen Toth (Leyna), Richard Isaacs (Dr. Zubritsky), Brian Selcik (Leon), Howard Soroos (Magistrate), Olivia Hays (Sophia), John Hays (Slovitch), Jim Pearson (Snetsky), Gilbert Jones (Mishkin), and Joyce Tischer (Yenchna). Photo by Victor Fisher.

Is there any hope for these hopeless fools?

Aldersgate Church Community Theater‘s latest production – Fools – is a night of frothy, lighthearted fun–especially welcome given our current atmosphere brimming with political tension. My advice? Switch off the debates for an evening and give some other Fools your attention for a bit.

Running Time is approximately 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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Fools plays through October 16, 2016 at Aldersgate Church Community Theater– 1301 Collingwood Road, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, buy them at the door, or purchase them online .



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