Written By Neil Simon
Directed by William Salloway
At the Leverett House Old Library
Through this weekend
AS theatrical comedy goes, Neil Simon's Fools is pretty lame stuff. Why would anyone aspire to write a play such as this unconscionably trite piece of drivel? And why would anyone choose it for performance before a Harvard audience? Our campus has simply not been so blessed with performances of really worthwhile theater that anyone should be looking to put on self-consciously third-rate works, however well executed.
Simon, of course, is an acclaimed playwright, but after watching Fools, it is difficult to imagine why. The play's faults are as profound as they come: the author has made little effort to say anything relevant, let alone meaningful, to any audience other than perhaps children. As a result, the humor--and Simon does have a undeniable knack for one-liners--is entirely superficial and makes you feel sheepish for actually laughing at it.
It is the noteworthy achievement of a talented cast, aided by a suitably sparse, well-conceived set, that sitting through this play is not a wholly bad experience. Considerable gifts have been squandered on a script not worthy of them. It is a shame.
Especially strong are the performances of Laurence Thomsen and Maria Catherine Troy, who play the befuddled Dr. and Mrs. Zubrisky, leading citizens in the small Russian town in which the play is set. Thomsen is a clever actor, deftly mixing deadpan and ham. Similarly, the utterly natural theatrical poise with which Troy plays her part is admirable.
Also successful are the efforts of Sandra Vinton, who plays Sophia, the Zubriskys' sweet, beautiful and hideously moronic daughter. And in more minor roles, Jon Hill and Alexander Pak shine. As Leon Tolchinsky, the town's newly-arrived schoolmaster, Sherwin Parikh is perhaps not quite as convincing. At times, he emerges as almost too slick and too polished for his part.
Then again, Simon's ludicrous script leaves Parikh in a rather uncomfortable bind. As the passionately intellectual schoolmaster, he comes to town in order to educate the incorrigibly dimwitted Sophia. Despite his consuming interest in higher math and philosophy, Parikh must somehow be convincing in falling in love with her.
Upon the teacher's effort hinges the fate of the whole town. For in the distant past, an evil aristocrat put the town under a spell that, ever since, has rendered everyone in the town both mindless and unable to love. The only way the spell can be broken is if either a member of the Zubrisky family marries someone of the aristocrat's line, or if someone can educate Sophia. If the teacher fails to do so within 24 hours, the age-old curse will strike the promising intellectual as dumb and loveless as his pupil.
If all this sounds inane, it is. There are a few unexpected turns in the plot, and a handful of genuinely funny interchanges, but by and large it is difficult to imagine a less ambitious comedy than this one. In the conclusion, as if aware that what has gone before is essentially meaningless, Simon glibly trots out those eternal verities that You Are How You Perceive Yourself, and Love Conquers All.
One feels the inevitable tuggings at one's heartstrings, but all the while one knows that this is a manipulative attempt to put a respectable face on a lackluster script. How unfortunate that talented people spent their energies on such an undertaking as Fools.