Spotlight: Fools

Act One, Too, Ltd.

Neil Simon dug into Jewish folklore for this trifle about the Russian village of Kulyenchikov, whose inhabitants suffer under a centuries-old curse that renders them idiotic, incapable of love, and unable to leave. The action opens with the arrival of Leon (Ben Tallen), who thinks he's landed a plum job as the village schoolmaster—until he discovers that his main charge, the lovely Sophia (Abby DeSanto), is such a thoroughgoing dullard that she's "just recently learned to sit down." (DeSanto shows off her character's raw new skill throughout the evening, stiffly launching herself onto the furniture and beaming with self-satisfaction when she manages to plant her posterior.) We soon learn that the curse can only be lifted if Sophia marries Gregor (Luke Weber), the local aristocrat who lives in a scary house on a hill and whose family name causes the townspeople to tremble in terror. The only other way out is for Leon to de-cretinize Sophia within 24 hours, which proves impossible; Tallen and DeSanto launch into a sort of Bizarro-world Pygmalion sequence, with Leon hopelessly trying to teach Sophia some basic math while running aground on the impenetrable reef of her ignorance. Director Richard Jackson's cast produces a goofy tone throughout, with Weber mugging to the audience and DeSanto and Tallen evincing a sweet chemistry amid the daftness. But real sharpness never threatens, and Simon himself unfortunately opts to jettison much of his usual easy facility with dialogue in favor of endless groaners. Finally, the plot machinations of the second act culminate in the most tepid of insights (our ignorance of life and love are self-inflicted, and we can drop them if we try—okay, fair enough). There's a kernel of something interesting here about Old World conceptions of coarse, embarrassing villagers as viewed by their city counterparts, but it isn't worth worrying much about. This show is obviously intended as a light summer diversion. If only it delivered enough laughs to qualify as such.

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