Arts and Entertainment

Tahoma's production of 'Fools' premieres tonight at Tahoma Middle School

Tonight, Tahoma High Drama will finally get its chance to shine on an actual theater stage.

The fall production of Neil Simon's "Fools," a play about a village full of less-than intelligent peasants in 19th century Ukraine, will premiere tonight at 7 at Tahoma Middle School.

Directing the play is Dale Bowers, who took over for Rich Young after he stepped down earlier this year, having directed the high school plays for 33 years. Incidentally, Bowers had directed Young in "The Odd Couple" while they were graduates students at Washington State University. While many directors prefer to sit back and provide guidance from a distance, Bowers said he has enjoyed imparting his experience and knowledge to the students, especially those new to drama.

For his first play, Bowers said, he chose "Fools" because he felt it had both a natural humor as well as some particular challenges for both the production as well as the students. The comedic timing, pace and energy have to be done precisely in order to create the right atmosphere, or else the play loses its sense of humor.He also decided to stage the play at the middle school.

Traditionally, drama productions had been done in the multipurpose room at the high school. This, Bowers said, has required them to build the stage at the high school, transport it to the middle school, construct it, then take it apart and transport it back to the high school for storage. Adding to this was the decision to double cast in order to allow some of the Tahoma band members, whose schedules conflicted with the show dates, to participate.

Bowers said Simon's films and plays tend to be dated by their verbiage and context, something he felt "The Fools" doesn't suffer from.

First premiering on Broadway in 1981, "Fools" was written in a manner akin to show-within-a-show "Springtime for Hilter," which was part of Mel Brooks' Broadway musical "The Producers." As part of his divorce agreement, Simon signed over all the profits of his next play. So he went out and attempted to write the worst play he could.

While the play initially closed after only 40 performances, Dramatics Magazine listed it as the ninth most performed high school play in 2010.

"Fools" takes place in a 19th century Ukrainian village, Kulyenchikev. The villagers are under a 200-year-old curse of "stupidity" due to an ill-fated romantic affair. When an illiterate man attempts to marry a beautiful woman, her father forbids it and has her marry a student instead. The young man then commits suicide, prompting his embittered father to place a curse of stupidity on the village.

A schoolteacher arrives in Kulyenchikev two centuries later in order to educate Sophia Zubritsky, who is the descendent of the young woman. Unless he can educate her within 24 hours, the schoolteacher will become stupid, as well. For the curse to end, Count Gregor, the last descendent of the young man's family, must marry Sophia. He proposes twice a day every day to Sophia, but is repeatedly refused.

Much of the hilarity that ensues, Bowers said, is not because the people are stupid, but because they are aware they are inherently stupid as opposed to merely foolish.

"Common sense is not common," Bowers said. "You laugh at people because they lack intelligence, but lacking intelligence, if they're honest with themselves about it, is funny. You're not laughing at them merely because they're stupid."

For Tahoma students Matt Whittlesey, Tyler Johnson and Emily Hagen, "Fools" also gives them a serious acting challenge: play characters that are stupid, rather than actors behaving stupidly on stage.

This, Bowers, said, had to be carefully done in order to avoid self-parody. "They have to be true," he said. "They have to be real."

As part of the play's levity, Bowers encouraged the students to create their own accents for their characters. Hagen, who plays Sophia, and Johnson, who plays Count Gregor, do not have accents as a way of keeping the story focused around them.

Johnson said he approached the performance with the understanding that while the characters are not bright, they are inclined to say comprehensible and intelligent, sometimes even profound things, but aren't sharp-minded enough to realize or notice it.

"It's more of a curse of ignorance than stupidity," he said.

Though Johnson and Hagenhave performed extensively, for Whittleysey, who plays a lovable grump of a butcher, it was his first time acting after a friend persuaded him to audition.

Also starring are Natalie Holcomb, Taylor Bennett, Megan Rohrbaugh and Sarah Neely."Fools" will show at 7:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, as well as Nov. 16-17, with Saturday matinees at 2 p.m. on Nov. 10 and 17.

Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors and $4 for children and are available at the door.

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