There is nothing like the logic of an illogical mind. The witty resplendence that is the hallmark of Neil Simon is resonating through Parlor Room Theatre’s current production of Fools. Directed by Frank DiSalvo Jr., this double-whammy of a whip-smart comedy packs the punch-lines from start to finish, catering to a vast array stylistic humors. An amusing production that infuses love with wit and idiots with brains, this show is a great light-hearted evening of entertainment to enjoy this summer.
Though the space is sparse in Catholic’s Callan Theatre Black Box, Set Designer Ember DiSalvo focuses on the key components that ground the production in 1890’s Kulyenchikov, a small Ukrainian village. Leaving a large portion of the play space open for meandering, pacing, and pausing, Ember DiSalvo lets the performances speak for themselves in the blank stage space, which is perfect for the many audience asides that are peppered throughout the script. Her balcony is a visual display of poetry transformed into architecture; graceful and functional and perfect for the moments of physical shtick that graft their way into the performance.
Ember doubles as the show’s Costumer, working with Thomas DiSalvo, to further authentic the shift in time and space away from 2015 urban America. The costumes appear deceptively simple; a perfect reflection of the townsfolk of Kulyenchikov, who are all trapped under a nurse. Curse. Crafting crackpot couture, the DiSalvo team gives each towns person a unique look that specifies their trade whether it be post master, butcher, or doctor. Keep an eye out for the shepherd’s hat, it’s quite the accentuating accessory.
Director Frank DiSalvo Jr. really works the pacing of the show into a frenzy. Highlighting those impeccable moments of sheer stupidity with awkward and well-timed pauses, DiSalvo finds a sturdy balance between the intelligence the new school master brings to town and the idiocy that pervades throughout the crown. Town. His remarkable ability to block within the constraints of the wavering fourth wall serves the intention of the show well and his attention to the nuances of the stupidity that Simon has so excellently penned into the work is incredible.
Performances across the board are noteworthy, even those having only a few lines. The Magistrate (Steve Rosenthal) who commits fully to his doddering mincing hunched forward shuffle, is one such a character. Rosenthal is brief in his delivery but has sharp comic timing that lends itself to the show. Allison Frisch, Jordan Wells, and Sean James, who play the Butcher, Vendor, and Postman respectively, each carve an independent niche of idiocy and settle in snuggly. Wells, as the slightly snarky vendor, has a particularly praiseworthy moment when she wheels through with her cow.
Something Something Snetsky (Thomas DiSalvo) is the town shepherd, or at the very least the bungler that loses the sheep. His blank stares of imbecility are the most impressive among the townsfolk and his pauses of awkward thinking are uproarious. A true trip of a character, the little asides that this DiSalvo’s character has with the audience bring about hearty laughs.
The man stealing the show is Jesse Marciniak as the vile and odious Count Gregor Yousekevitch. *tremble tremble tremble* It’s not easy being the show’s hambone villain, but then again, there is something delectable in being loathed by the audience. Really working the house over with his asides, Marciniak is an honest riot. Delivering shameless cartoon villainy that would give Neil Patrick Harris a run for his money, the man owns every laugh he derives from the audience members and really creates a memorable presence upon the stage.
The Zubritsky clan is a breed of obtuseness all its own. Doctor (Phil Dickerson), wife Lenya (Kathryn Barrett-Gains) and daughter Sophia (Sarah Pullen) live out the literal meaning of everything that is spoken in painstaking hilarity. Dickerson and Barrett-Gains play exceptionally well off one another, working the verbal puns as well as the physical ones. Dickerson invades the personal space bubble of Leon, the new school master, several times all of which result in a brilliant silent-startle response. Barrett-Gains really amps up the plays on words and commits physically to these zany notions of “lowering her voice” and things of the like. The pair really are the cat’s whinny er— the horse’s meow amazing at living up the reality of the stupidity that has encased the village. They become scene stealers, much like Count Gregor Yousekevitch *tremble tremble tremble*, during the lord’s holy prayer— totally uproarious crackups!
Pullen, as ditzy Sophia, p0rtrays a blissfully simple soul. With a perpetual look of witless confusion that plasters her face, Pullen masters the muck-ups of even the most commonplace of tasks with a natural flare. There is an insane enthusiasm in her eagerness to dispel her fog of fuzzy logic. Pullen finds a rich inner depth in the character of Sophia, making the audience really want Leon to succeed in breaking the nurse curse and freeing the village from its inevitable dumbness.
As for Leon, played with aplomb and startling intelligence by Dillon DiSalvo, educating is one thing but breaking curses are something else entirely. The indefatigable determination with which DiSalvo approaches the character’s mission in the tiny dumbstruck village is invigorating. Never wavering from his logical reasoning, which often exposes itself in the form of persistent pontification, DiSalvo wears the excellent dual-hat of playing to his fellow characters and playing through the fourth wall to the audience. A charmer, a commanding comic presence on the stage, DiSalvo delivers the perfect ointment to this production and really rounds out the hilarity tenfold once the diabolical scheme of love gets underway.
A truly remarkable and hysterical evening that will have you laughing until you too are too dumb to speak, Parlor Room Theatre is onto a rare gem with their current production and has the talent and creative minds to prove it.
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes with one intermission
Fools plays through July 2, 2015 at Parlor Room Theatre currently in the Callan Theatre on the campus of the Catholic University of America— 3801 Harewood Road NE in Washington, DC. Tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance online. Advanced tickets are recommended as seating is limited.