Enter into a town where there are 25 hours in day, a teenager only yesterday learned how to sit and stand, the doctors do not have medical degrees and the purpose of man’s existence is thought to be 12. Such is the world being created by Briar Woods High School for their final production of the year, Neil Simon’s "Fools."
One of Simon’s lesser known plays, "Fools" follows the lives of the people living in the small village of Kulyenchikov, Ukraine, during the late 1800s. There’s only one problem, no one in the village has any intelligence thanks to a 200-year curse of stupidity cast on them by Vladimir Youskevitch and can only be broken by marrying Count Gregor, Youskevitch’s only living ancestor. Leon Tolchinsky, an ambitious young schoolteacher, arrives in the village to teach Sophia, the daughter of Doctor Zubritsky and his wife, Lenya. He immediately falls in love with Sophia, but must educate her within 24 hours or risk falling under the curse himself.
"Fools is based on a traditional Russian folk tale," junior Paul Burgess, who plays uneducated Doctor Zubritsky, said. "You can’t judge a play by how well-known it is, it’s like judging a book by its cover."
"It’s a light-hearted comedy," senior Taylor Hart, who plays Leon Tolchinsky, the teacher who falls in love with the Zubritsky’s daughter, said. "It catches you off guard at times. It’s really funny like that."
THE SILLY NATURE of "Fools" has given the cast license to try things they would not normally do, including putting their own spin on the dialogue and slapstick.
"It’s stupid funny, but there is a lot of physical comedy," junior Megan Lamb, who plays the doctor’s wife, Lenya Zubritsky, said. "It’s really just a lot of fun to do."
Marilyn Gilligan, in her first year as Briar Woods’ drama director, said she likes to give her students the opportunity to put their own touch on their characters, such as Burgess’ decision to call his assistant a "man-nurse."
"When it comes from them, they become so much more invested," she said. "To do a piece where they can be crazy and have fun and develop their characters at the same time is just wonderful."
Its silliness was one of the reasons Gilligan chose "Fools" for the school’s last production of the year.
"I try to do shows that are for all ages," she said. "We’re a public school, so it should be for the public."
FOR ALL OF its entertainment value, however, "Fools" required a lot of its cast and crew.
Besides having only two months to put the production together, Gilligan added several roles and adjusted some of the dialogue to fit both the high-school production and the talent level of her students.
"We have so many talented kids and it was breaking my heart not to have them all in the show," she said. "The kids are so hardworking. It was pretty obvious they could pull this off beautifully."
Gilligan also tries to run her shows with a professional atmosphere, from the two-sided sets to the audition process.
"I like doing things that are done in New York and L.A.," she said. "I try to get these kids prepared, if this is the path they choose."
Lamb said the professional atmosphere pushes her and the other students to work hard during rehearsals and with at-home preparations.
"It gives everyone more of a reason to do well and be on top of their game," she said. "It brings them to a higher level. It seems like the department has become more cohesive."
The nonsensical nature of the dialogues also made improvisation virtually impossible, forcing the actors to know each line perfectly.
"You’ll say something and if you skip something you have to figure out how to fix it without missing the joke," Hart said.
"FOOLS’" TWO-STORY set was built completely by the stage manager, junior Aaron Hess, who stepped off the stage for the first time to work behind the scenes.
"I figured I was going to be a senior and I would want to be in all the shows next year, but I wanted to do tech once before I graduated," he said.
Hess, along with two other students, spent two months building a two-story structure that serves as both the interior and exterior of the Zubritsky’s home.
"I’ve built flats before, but nothing this big," Hess said. "I had a lot of plans when I started, but they changed when I started making it."
Hess’ structure, which is only slightly shorter than the height of a small house, turned out bigger than Gilligan originally requested, but adds to the authenticity of the production.
"I like going above and beyond," Hess said.
LARGE SETS AND new characters aside, at its heart "Fools" is a comedy that parents can feel comfortable bringing their young children to while adults will enjoy the word play and some of the subtler jokes, the cast said.
"It is farcical, with social commentary," Burgess said. "Some parts I would go so far as to say is satire of the time period in general. It’s really a comedy that pretty much anyone can enjoy."