By Paul Atreides
Author, playwright, and Theatre critic at EatMoreArtVegas.com
Neil Simon is the most prolific playwright of modern times. From 1961’s Come Blow Your Horn to Rose’s Dilemma in 2003, he wrote 29 plays and four musicals for the stage. If you add on plays he contributed to, like A Chorus Line, that number jumps to 49. Some were wildly successful (The Odd Couple, Biloxi Blues) some were total bombs (The Goodbye Girl, Rose’s Dilemma), some were award winners (Odd Couple, Biloxi Blues, Lost in Yonkers (which also earned him the Pulitzer Prize), most were solidly in between.
Fools closed after four weeks and is therefore considered by many to sit in the flop category. It’s an over-the-top comedy. So much so that one might even consider this a farce without the slamming doors. The story, about a poor schoolteacher in 19th Century Ukraine attempting to lift a curse that has left the entire population “stupid,” is certainly farcical enough to qualify.
With silly material such as this, the more it is played straight, as normal and real people, the funnier it is. Produced by Speeding Theatre – Over 55 and directed by Rip Pellaton, it is far too far over the top.
The pace is frantic instead of frenetic; the actor steps out of the scene to the edge of the stage, delivering them directly to the audience and then returning to the scene, delivering asides. That brings the flow to a screeching halt. As does the final “what happened after” scene as we wait for the character to saunter out from backstage. Much of the dialogue is delivered by yelling the lines as if fools must be hard of hearing. Many times, actors deliver lines facing the audience rather than to the other actor.
Case in point, Leon (Rick Cabrera) is instructing Sophia (Summer Sinclair) and says, “Let me show you this math book.” Then proceeds to walk to the edge of the stage, leaving her sitting on the bench. He asks her father, “Is she spoken for?” and delivers the line to the audience.
The actors who bring the most believability to their roles are Jack Stroud as Slovitch the butcher, Blanche Rever as Yenchna the vendor and Nancy Marcellus as Mishkin, the mail carrier. Their timing and delivery bring simple realism, and as a result, they get laughs when delivering punchlines.
The Fischer Black Box stage has been used cleverly. With only a bench, a few crates and barrels, the various town locations come to life. Dianne Pellaton’s costumes meet the period and are wonderful, especially the gowns worn by Sinclair. The other production values, such as lighting and sound, help build place, time, and mood.
Despite this critic’s opinion of this production, the sheer fact that Speeding Theatre exists is to be applauded and celebrated. There is far too little material for older actors except to play the likes of an aged aunt or grandmother or a doddering or grouchy grandpa. This company grabs that niche and provides the opportunity for older actors in the community to take part. I urge you to support them.
When: 7 p.m. Friday - Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday - Sunday through Nov 19
Where: Las Vegas Little Theatre, Fischer Black Box, 3920 Schiff Drive
Grade: ** Still Hungry
Producer: Speeding Theatre – Over 55; Director: Rip Pellaton; Set Design: Dianne Pellaton; Lighting Design: Uncredited; Sound Design: Uncredited; Costumes: Dianne Pellaton; Stage Manager: Pat Scarsella