Neil Simon’s Fools is a fable about a 19th century Ukrainian village whose inhabitants are stupid. Two hundred years ago a girl refused to marry the Count’s son and he cursed them so now they are all stupid but charming, innocent and lovable. Enter Leon (Kostis Rampavillas), a teacher from Moscow who is looking for a job and finds a village of simpletons.
Director Grigoris Papadopoulos of the National Theatre of Northern Greece has staged a production of Fools that has managed to remove the charm, reduce the humour and deliver a very dull production of an admittedly second rate play.
Fools is supposed to open in the village square where the schoolteacher arrives and is charmed by the surroundings. Papadopoulos has his own ideas about the opening scene. He has the cast walk on stage and chant some words as they move around robotically. I have no idea what this was supposed to produce aside from annoyance.
Leon meets the shepherd Snetsky (played by the popular Tasos Pezirkianidis – you know he is popular because the audience applauded when he stepped on the stage) who establishes that he is a charming idiot. Snetsky has lost his flock and asks Leon to tell the sheep, if he sees them, that he is looking for them. He has a couple of dozen – well, fourteen – sheep. He can’t remember his first name but he calls himself “Something Something Snetsky.”
Yenchna, the vendor (Poluxeni Spyropoulou), calls out that she is selling fish but has only flowers. It is not her fault the fishermen did not catch any fish. She has to sell something and offers flowers as if they were fish. She complains that she has not received a letter from her daughter for a year. But she lives here, the postman Mishkin (Roula Pantelidou) reminds her. Thank God, replies Yenchna, otherwise I would have had no news from her.
Leon meets the most educated man in town, Dr. Zubritsky (Vasilis Spyropoulos) and his wife Lenya (Giolanta Balaoura), both stupid of course, but they reveal the origin of the curse. They have hired Leon to educate their dumb as a stump daughter Sophia. Leon soon meets Sophia (Kleio Danai Othonaiou), stupid and ignorant but very fetching even in an ugly orange dress.
Leon and Sophia fall in love and the plot will lead to the inevitable, including the breaking of the curse. The play has charm and humour but unfortunately this production manages to do away with just about all of that.
The set consists of a few painted, moveable panels that represent abstract views of a village or something. They do nothing to bring out the essential idea of a village in a fable. The costumes are modern or worse with no attempt to give any notion of a magical place where loveable people live and love will triumph. The actors are trapped in a production that goes against the essential quality of the play which is that of a mythical place that we will enjoy visiting for a couple of hours.
The play was performed in the small and well-attended Closed Municipal Theatre of Sykies in suburban Thessaloniki. The unfortunate adjective “closed” I assume is intended to differentiate it from the nearby open air theatre and not to indicate that it is shut. The National Theatre of Northern Greece has adopted the laudable idea of bringing theatre to the people instead of waiting for them to travel to the center of the city.
The people of Sykies were treated to a play that can provide many laughs and considerable pleasure but unfortunately this production provided neither in any significant quantity.
Fools by Neil Simon in a translation by Errikos Belies opened on February 9, 2018 at the Closed Municipal Theatre of Sykies, Riga Feraiou and Megaron, Sykies, Thessaloniki, Greece. www.ntng.gr