Monday, October 14, 2019

WORLD PREMIERE! Neil Simon's Fools The Musical Open Fist

Leon Steponovich Tolchinsky (Demitris Hartman, a ringer for Val Kilmer), is a bright young Russian school teacher. Setting out for adventure, he arrives by virtual ejection from his train, landing the dumbest village in Ukraine: The Town of Kulyenchicov! Kulyenchicov suffers from a curse by the evil Gregor (Jason Paige), turning on some problem two hundred years prior to our story. The townsfolk call bouquets of flowers by fish names and the over all silliness of Neil Simon giving in to puns and such prevails. Mr. Simon may be on a cloud somewhere, just giggling that such a bit of pure silliness would bring guffaws. It's funny.

And enthusiastic cast, accompanied by a truly delightful live orchestra (well.. four pieces) that Klezmers like anything to accompany strong singing and Luisa Kendrick Burton's really clever choreography.  As we might expect from Neil Simon, it's a love story. Poor Tolchinsky stumbles into a morass of really stupid jokes and a pantomimed door slam that got me every time.  

  Yes! The Open Fist has waded into a musical.     On Jan Munroe's brightly colored Ukranian Egg inspired  set we are treated to overly broad performances, great singing and strong dance moves. Not all of the lyrics are immediately clear, but the enthusiastic cast barrels through with an outstanding performance by the gorgeous
Sophia (operatic soprano, Clare Snodgrass) who is as dumb as a box or rocks.. or fine jewelry, as we are led to believe the local vendor, (Cat Davis) who foists rocks off as gifts.  

 The village   has been blessed with a curse that has rendered the inhabitants simply simple.  They function, somehow and are excited to have a new teacher to replace the myriad of former teachers who have come and gone over the years.  Sophia's parents, Dr. and Mrs. Zubritsky (Bruce Green and Robyn Roth) make George Burns and Gracie Allen look like Rhodes Scholars. 
Photo by Darrett Sanders
  The show comes in at well over two hours with a fifteen minute intermission that seemed more like half an hour.  Meta references to the audience are silly with the story taking some double twists and turns after we are conned into "liking" Paige's evil Count Gregor and even goaded to applaud his reversal of fortune only to have the plot cheat its way to a very happy ending..and then.. more of an ending than necessary..and then we got to go home. 

This review, in the spirit of Neil Simon, means to say that the laughs are cheap and well worth the time investment.  The huge cast and wonderful orchestra make the evening memorable though long. To benefit the company, Jan Munroe's artwork will be for sale after the show closes.  I support Open Fist and their dedication to new works and pushing the theatrical envelope, thus.. this pitch.

Applause for all of the Fools on the stage and those of us cavorting in the audience.

by Neil Simon
Book and lyrics by Neil Simon 
Music and lyrics by Phil Swann and Ron West
Directed by Ron West
Atwater Village Theatre
3269 Casitas Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90039
Through November 17, 2019
Tickets and Information:
(323) 882-6912 

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