Sometimes it’s enjoyable to play the fool, but what if you were doomed to play it forever — and even worse, your whole town was intellectually challenged? This is the basic premise of The Eventide Theatre Company’s delightfully silly “Fools.”
Set in the 1800s, Ricky Bourgeois plays the mildly-pompous Russian schoolteacher Leon Steponovich Tolchinsky, who has come to teach the doctor’s beautiful but dimwitted daughter, Sophia (Kate Paxton). As quaint as the village appears, it quickly becomes apparent that something is amiss with the mental faculties of all the townspeople. Wil Moser dynamically portrays Snetsky the local shepherd, who surprisingly cannot remember his first name. In a comical exchange, which highlights the depth of the villagers’ stupidity, Snetsky tells Leon about the multitude of teachers that have come before him. Leon asks incredulously, “You’ve had thousands of teachers?” To which the mindless shepherd earnestly replies, “More! Hundreds!”
It’s soon revealed the townspeople’s ineptitude is due to a 200-year-old curse, which can only be broken if Sophia marries the entertainingly evil Count Gregor (Robert Bock), or she suddenly increases her I.Q. Having been smitten by Sophia’s beauty and her unique way of looking at the world with her “sweet soul,” Leon is torn between fleeing the town before he falls victim to the curse (which will happen if he stays longer than 24 hours) and trying to save Sophia from her fate.
Bourgeois is a consummate straight man during the show’s many shenanigans. Paxton is wide-eyed as Sophia, visibly expressing her pride after mastering small things, like sitting and standing up, which she absurdly just figured out at 19. Even though she’s not classically educated like Leon, she has an innate wisdom that calls into question some of the schoolteacher’s beliefs.
William Collins and Tara Keirnan play Sophia’s parents, Dr. and Mrs. Zubritsky. Collins’ amusing facial expressions give more weight to his funny one-liners — like when he tells the magistrate (Garry Mitchell) “You’re in perfect health — you’ll live to 80.” When Mitchell promptly replies he’s 79, Collins doesn’t miss a beat with — “You’ll have a good year then!”
As the doctor’s wife, Keirnan also has some entertaining repartees with Collins. For instance, when the doctor asks his wife if she was mindful of something she just said, Keirnan placidly responds, “No, I wasn’t listening.”
Directed by Kay DeFord, the cast’s notable comic timing maximizes the laughter, hitting every punchline. Supported by Greg Hamm’s lighting, Andrew Arnault’s set is magical with his minimalistic framing of the fairy-tale like town — with the positioning of windows and doors creatively evoking friendly faces in the homes’ facades. Judy Chesley’s costumes are elegantly textured and cheerfully bright, romanticizing the classic Russian peasant style.
Adding to the zany show, the actors often break the fourth wall, with Bock, as Count Gregor, eliciting enthusiastic sympathy from the audience, when he says he is tired of being the bad guy.
As foolish as the townspeople might be, they have their moments when they give some thoughtful pause to literal interpretations of common phrases, like when the men end a communal prayer with the expected “Amen,” and the women quite naturally end it with “Awomen.”
Even though the lighthearted family show doesn’t have Neil Simon’s usual depth, it provides many laughs with its clever word play and plethora of one-liners. Known for their attention to detail, Eventide fully develops the 1981 Broadway comedy, beautifully creating an enchanting Ukrainian village fitting for this fabulously foolish fable.
At Eventide Theatre Company, 713 Route 6A, Dennis
Through March 19
Information and reservations: 508-398-8588