Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Brelby Theatre Company

Also see Gil's reviews of Dreamgirls, The Boy Who Loved Monsters and the Girl Who Loved Peas, Conviction, A Celebration of Harold Pinter and Blockbuster Broadway

Baily Schultz and Devon Mahon
Turns out even an "average" Neil Simon comedy can be a funny affair. His play Fools, which is receiving a spirited production from the Brelby Theatre Company, is a farcical comedy, a fable set in a small Ukrainian village in the 1890s. Rumor has it that Simon intentionally wrote Fools to be a flop as his ex-wife was set to receive royalties from his next Broadway show as part of their divorce settlement. While Fools only ran a month on Broadway and may not be on the same comedic level as such Simon classics as The Odd Couple and Brighton Beach Memoirs, the Brelby production proves that if you have a talented cast and direction even a show that Simon intended to be a flop can become a very fun experience.

The story follows Leon Steponovitch Tolchinsky, a schoolteacher who has come to the village of Kulyenchikov to teach the daughter of Doctor Zubritsky and his wife, Lenya. Leon meets the inhabitants of the village and quickly realizes they aren't the sharpest tools in the shed. They are all under a 200-year-old curse that has made everyone ignorant. And when he falls in love with Zubritsky's daughter Sophia, he goes about finding a way to reverse the curse. While the ending of the play is fairly obvious, Simon has provided plenty of fun twists and turns, and several humorous characters for us to encounter along the way to the inevitable conclusion.

Director Shelby Maticic has found a cast to fulfill her inspired direction, including several Brelby regulars. Devon Mahon brings joy and sweetness to the part of Leon. Even though he becomes frustrated with trying to help the town break the curse, especially with all of the obstacles that get in his way, Leon is still caring and gentle with Sophia. Mahon is both charming and commanding in the role. As Sophia, Baily Schultz has the requisite blank stares and confused looks down perfectly for the young dimwitted woman who makes lines like "how alike we are and yet your hair is so much shorter than mine" have a perfect comic zing. Cody Goulder and Melody Knudson are hilarious as Sophia's parents, with Knudson giving abundant life to Lenya with her over excited expressive gestures and mannerisms. As the villain of the piece, the dreaded Count Yousekevitch, David Magadan uses his large cape, giant mustache, and goatee as an extension of his rotten character, and has a lot of fun playing the antagonist, even at times really hamming it up and asking the audience for their sympathy in his plight.

Maticic's staging makes good use of the small Brelby space, including a hilarious use of the exit door. She draws funny portrayals of the characters from her actors, allowing them to go into caricature a bit, as that is what Simon's script requires. The static set of the village square does make a few scenes a bit unclear, especially ones set inside the Zubritsky house. At one moment Sophia tells Leon to sit on a couch, yet there isn't one present. However, Maticic's direction still works, since it is a comedy and the characters aren't supposed to be smart, so who knows?—maybe the watering square in the village that Sophia has Leon sit on is what she thinks is a couch. Maticic also has a lot of fun with the staging of scenes set on the small balcony, and with the contortionist skills that Mahon brings in getting on and off the balcony.

Brian Maticic's dialect coaching helps the cast deliver some wacky Russian accents. Fernando Perez's set design includes a colorful forced perspective set with a mansion high on a hill in the background, and Shelby Maticic also created the zany peasant style costumes.

While the play is not Simon's best work, with a solid cast and clear direction, the winning Brelby production is anything but a flop.

The Brelby Theatre Company production of Fools runs through February 28th, 2015 with performances at 6835 N 58th Avenue in Glendale. Tickets are available at or by phone at (623) 282-2781.

Director: Shelby Maticic
Stage Manager: Mia Passarella
Scenic Designer: Fernando Perez
Lighting Designer/Scenic Advisor/Dialect Coach: Brian Maticic
Costume Designers: Shelby Maticic
Sound Designer: Luke Gomez

Leon Steponovitch Tolchinsky: Devon Mahon
Sophia Irena Elenya Zubritsky: Baily Schultz
Count Yousekevitch: David Magadan
Doctor Nikolai Zubritsky: Cody Goulder
Lenya Zubritsky: Melody Knudson
Something Something Snetsky: Zachary Arnold
Mishkin (The Post Man): Erin Coen
Slovitch (the Butcher): Jamie Terran
Yenchna (A Vendor): Melody Chrispen
The Magistrate: Wendy Warwick White

Photo: Shelby Maticic

--Gil Benbrook

Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix

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