Ocean State Theatre's "Fools" is not one of Neil Simon's best

Jan 31, 2013

Stacey Geer, Matthew Rickard, and Alexander Cook star in Neil Simon’s highly comic play Fools
Credit Mark Turek

With their very fine new performing space (excellent sight lines, comfortable seats, good facilities) it seems a shame that Ocean State has picked a weak-at-the-knees Neil Simon play to officially open Rhode Island’s newest theater.

We speak here of one of the famous writer’s Broadway failures, called aptly enough, “Fools” a piece set far from his usual New York or California habitats. In fact, “Fools” takes us to far off Russia where we find a lonely bachelor schoolteacher arriving in an isolated town in which the locals suffer, somehow, from a 200-year long curse of “stupidity.”

The plot then has the teacher fall for the town and its, ahh, underperforming population. He likes these folks who have major problems adding, say, two plus two. Naturally he meets a pretty, and pretty dumb, young lady and pursues her with matrimony and improved arithmetic in mind. Naturally, too, there is a competitor for her hand, a local noble, a count, who can’t count much but uses his power to chase the girl and chase off the teacher.

All of this and more is done with Roo-sian accents and in vivid Russian clothing. Bright colors and high boots are the amusing motif designed by Marilyn Salvatore, the always busy Rhode Island costume designer.

And the jokes, oh yes, those, go like this:   A doctor’s wife is asked to draw the curtains. “I can’t draw curtains,” she replies. “I can draw a cat or a fish.” Then there’s the young beauty asking the teacher, “Would you like to kiss me?” “With all my heart,” he says. I imagine you, dear listener, have already sensed the punch line: “No, I meant with your lips,” says the beauty.

The cast deals with all this as well as could be expected. Matthew Rickard, a Boston-based performer, gives the teacher a fuzzy kind of optimism that works, considering the material. The New York-based Bruce Warren is excellently someone you’d like to visit, but just for conservation.

All bright colors and goofily Russian humorous the sets by Kimberly V. Powers, who’s worked at Theatre-by-the-Sea, are just right. In the end, you’ll have no trouble guessing, all is wackily wrapped up happily.

So why did one of America’s most-produced playwrights come up with such an off the mark script? One theory that’s been around for decades says that his divorce gave all the profits from his next play to his ex-wife. Therefore, he set out to write a dog.

Well, I’ve met and interviewed Simon a few times and I can’t believe this intense, caring author could deliberately write badly. Known for his re-writing ability, possibly he just didn’t try very hard to fix the script, once he saw the problems in rehearsal. After all, it wasn’t his money that was lost when the play closed after just 40 performances on Broadway. In any case, “Fools” doesn’t work, particularly from a master of comedy.

But don’t give up on Ocean State Theatre. They’ve got some interesting things coming up including the musical “Rent” and David Mamet’s newish play “Race” along with “The King and I.”

Want to Go?

“Fools” continues at the Ocean State Theatre Company in Warwick through February 10th.

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