‘Fools’ Takes Over Brockway Theater

BROCKWAY, Pa. (EYT) – Imagine finding a town that has been cursed with stupidity.

(Pictured above: Brockway’s Philip Shifter and Cecilia Manno rehearse a scene of “Fools.”)

Ignoring the obvious Washington D.C. jokes, that question became the premise of Neil Simon’s 1981 play, “Fools.”

Justin Parson, the theater director for Brockway Area Junior/Senior High School, said that he chose Fools for the school’s play this year because he felt the stage needed a change of tone from the last production. Many of the cast members come from last year’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

“This cast has a strong camaraderie since most of them performed in Hunchback last year,” Parson said. “It’s great to see them working on a hilarious comedy instead of a very dark, dramatic musical. I picked Fools because, even on the page, it made me laugh out loud. The writing reminded me of Monty Python.”

Philip Shifter, a Brockway junior who plays Leon Steponovitch Tolchinsky, agrees that a comedy is a little out of character for Brockway’s performances.

“Fools is a comedy, as opposed to us always doing dramas or musicals,” Shifter said. “It’s about this schoolteacher who tries to educate a town to break a curse.”

That is the story in a nutshell. Leon comes to the Ukrainian town of Kulyenchikov in the 19th century. He is supposed to educate the doctor’s daughter and therefore break a 200-year-old curse that makes the townspeople stupid and incapable of love. Leon, of course, falls hopelessly in love with his dimwitted pupil and attempts to break the curse.

For this play, Parson pulled a not-so-famous work from one of America’s greatest playwrights. Neil Simon wrote 30 plays and a number of screenplays. He is best known for Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple. He wrote up until 2004 and died this past August at the age of 91.

“Given the comic nature of the play, there aren’t many moments to reflect on the life of the playwright, but we try to perform this comedy with all of the energy that Mr. Simon would expect,” Parson said.

Preparing for the comedy had its share of difficulties, especially dealing with scheduling issues, which is always the case in a school production. Aside from the usual conflicts in a production, there was one additional issue with this show: making sure the students get the jokes!

“Comic timing is not a gift that everyone has, and staging a comedy is so much more than memorizing lines,” Parson said. “We’ve worked on timing, reactions, and laughed ourselves silly doing it. I also dislike explaining the jokes to the students, but one does what one must.”

Brockway’s Elijah Shifter tests his costume as the evil Count.

Another issue Parson always faces is the way sports or other organizations take precedence over theater in the minds of the students.

“We’ve been working around a variety of events that use our rehearsal space, so time management has been crucial,” Parson said. “Dramas and musicals demand just as much from the students involved as a sport or club. It’s just shown in a different way. We’ve been working to change that perception.”

Parson added that the play deals with perceptions and the way we can inform how we act. He hopes that 21st century viewers in Brockway can see a little of themselves in 19th century Kulyenchikov, and have a good laugh.
“Come for an uplifting story about the power of knowledge to overcome ignorance,” he said. “We all know someone who seems like they’re from Kulyenchikov, and it’s good to get some perspective. And it’s good to laugh at ourselves every now and then.”

Fools, a comic fable by Neil Simon, will be staged at 7 pm on December 6, 7, and 8. It stars Phil Shifter as Leon, Cecilia Manno as Sophia, Nick Ross as Dr. Zubritsky, Elijah Shifter as Count Yousekevitch, and Skyler Monella as Lenya. Tickets are $5 at the door. The school also offers online ticket sales at rovers.ticketleap.com/fools/.

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