Michael Corliss has directed several productions of Neil Simon’s work in his time at Stevenson High School, a reflection of his admiration for the late playwright’s work.
So after Simon died Aug. 26, it seemed fitting that Corliss would choose one of his plays for the first production of the new school year.
“When he passed away, I thought, ‘We should do a tribute,'” Corliss said. “I ordered the copyright the very same day.”
The play he chose was “Fools,”¬†a comic fable set in the small village of Kulyenchikov, Ukraine, during the late 19th century. The story follows Leon Tolchinsky, a school teacher who takes a new job educating Sophia, the daughter of Dr. Zubritsky and his wife¬†Lenya.
The town has been rendered stupid by a curse¬†and Tolchinsky is hired to come in and teach Sophia.
Corliss said the basic message of the play is what attracted him to it.
“Here is a town cursed with stupidity, but they’re still kind,” Corliss said. “The audience doesn’t laugh at them, it laughs with them.”
Senior Josh Cole, a veteran of seven Stevenson plays who was last seen playing Bert in “Mary Poppins,” has the task of bringing Tolchinsky to life on stage.
Cole joked he likes playing Tolchinsky because “he’s the only smart person in a town of stupid people.” As Tolchinsky makes his way through the play, Cole said, he “just gets funnier.”
“The play is just hilarious,” Cole said. “Everyone does things that are so stupid that a bunch of hilarity ensues. It’s absolutely hilarious … that (townspeople) don’t know what they’re doing.”
Senior Rachel Scott plays Tolchinsky’s prominent student ‚ÄĒ and love interest ‚ÄĒ¬†Sophia Zubritsky. She said the biggest challenge was perfecting a Russian accent.
Presenting Sophia as a stupid person was a “fun” challenge for Scott, last seen playing Mrs. Corry in “Mary Poppins” (which she also choreographed).
“It’s really fun to play stupid on stage,” Scott said. “It’s funny¬†and it’s enjoyable to people. It’s not dark and serious.”
For this production, Corliss did something he doesn’t often do ‚ÄĒ create an entirely new cast of understudies. It was an opportunity, he said, to get more actors involved in the production.
“We decided to do a full understudy cast to give more kids a chance,” Corliss said. “The understudy cast will do an extra performance.”
Auditions for “Fools” were held the second weekend of September, with rehearsals immediately following. While it’s certainly going well and both casts will be ready for their Thursday debut, rehearsal season hasn’t been without challenges.
Because the theater at Stevenson is so new, a variety of groups ‚ÄĒ bands, choirs, etc. ‚ÄĒ want to use it. That has left precious little time for Corliss to get his actors on the actual stage.
“There are a lot of people who want to use this stage,” Corliss said. “It’s been a huge challenge, working around all of that. (But) these kids are so talented and so flexible, they work around any obstacle. They’re wonderful to work with.”
“Fools” opens¬†with a 7 p.m. performance Thursday (Nov. 1), and continues with 7 p.m. performances Friday and Saturday, plus the special understudy performance, which takes place at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 3. Seniors and children age 10 and younger get into that show for $1.
Contact Brad Kadrich at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @bkadrich.