Review: Fools offers golden nuggets about shirking shackles of stupidity

Yenchna the Vendor (Janet Campbell) shows a new way to deliver milk during Friday
Yenchna the Vendor (Janet Campbell) shows a new way to deliver milk during Friday's Mercury Theatre premiere of Noisy Mime's existential farce, Fools.
— image credit: Peter W. Rusland

Noisy Mime Theatre Company clanked into Cowichan with Friday's premiere production of Neil Simon's farcistential play, Fools.

A good time was had by Mime's actors, and their sparse Mercury Theatre crowd.

But the somewhat lengthy show displayed the new local troupe's dedication to artistic growth, and plumbing personal potential.

It helped having a comically timeless script questioning none other than the real purpose of life.

Director Michael Paylor's cast careered into Simon's rollicking satire about social stupidity, and how humanity can rise above it by daring to learn, not simply accepting our lot in life.

The trick is being an eagle that keeps its wits when among turkeys — then helping those turkeys reach loftier intellectual heights.

Such was the task of teacher Leon Tolchinsky (Cameron Mackenzie, who flubbed a few lines) sent to the isolated Russian village of Kulvenchicov for classroom duty.

But Leon found a loveless village of idiots who, he learned, were under a curse of stupidity.

That spell could only be lifted if Leon educated village gal Sophie (Leigh Fryling), or if self-centered Count Gregor (Sarah Needles), or his relative, married Sophie by a looming deadline.

Teachers failed before Leon, then left the dozy burg.

The difference with Leon was his love for Sophie.

Also his resolve that folks are only stupid if they choose to be, especially if submitting to rule under fear peddled by the cad count.

"Ignorance is a debilitating affliction," stated Leon.

But showing villagers how to ask questions, and question answers, was Leon's chisel into ignorance's tough shell.

Tough indeed.

Loss of memory, logic, manners and curiosity cursed the unwitting Kulvenchicovites, such as Yenchna the Vendor (Janet Campbell) who sold flowers as fish because fish were unavailable, then later displayed a new way to deliver milk.

Dr. Zubritsky (Dave McRae) and wife Lenya (Rosalind Adams) admitted they're incapable of thinking.

Daughter Sophie was just as dense.

"I can't catch a cold," she said. "I've tried, but never learned how."

Those kind of puns — clad in pesky Russian accents — abounded in Fools, as Leon showed villagers education is the key to smarts.

If not, common sense will remain uncommon, and reason will stay unreasonable, he concluded.

Still, the villagers came to agree with Leon's assertion "knowledge is everyone's birthright."

It was crystal Simon was commenting, through Fools, about humanity's ability to break cyclical shackles of mediocrity, fear, ignorance and greed through educational enlightenment — and a desire to achieve it.

Suffice to say the actors portrayed adequately stupid folks, until taking Leon's advice.

And this amusing play's simple symbolism neatly showed once a mind opens, it rarely shrinks to its original size.

Noisy Mime's next show is Urinetown, planned for June.

Given enjoyable Fools, Cowichan seems a welcome place for this company's fresh brand of art.

Fools runs at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 and 20, and 25 to 27, and at 2 p.m. Jan. 20 and 27, at The Merc, Brae Road.

Satiric play rating: 7.5 brains out of 10.

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