When the new schoolmaster goes to a small Ukrainian village eager to begin his first real teaching job in "Fools," Neil Simon's light romantic comedy which opens Thursday at East Central University, he gets three surprises.
Sophia Zubritsky (Kelli Clark, second from right) meets new schoolmaster Leon Tolchinsky (Keifer Truett, left) as her parents watch, hopeful that he can teach their daughter and break the curse that has made everyone stupid in their village for 200 years. The Neil Simon comedy will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday [OCT. 7 AND 8] and at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Chalmers Herman Theatre in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center. Chris Scoles plays Sophia's father, Dr. Zubritsky, and Jessica Pruitt plays her mother, Lenya Zubritsky. For ticket information, call 559-5600.
First, everyone is stupid and unteachable, and they know it. They are suffering from a 200-year-old curse, and Sophia Zubritsky, the daughter of the town's doctor, is the key to breaking it.
Second, Leon Tolchinsky, the schoolmaster who is hired to teach Sophia, is immediately lovestruck when he meets her, even though at age 19 she has just learned how to sit down.
And finally, he is shocked to learn that many of the teachers before him never lasted through the first night.
"If the school teacher is not successful in 24 hours, he, too, will become stupid," said director Dr. Rick Groetzinger, ECU director of theatre. "There is a suspenseful moment in the play - will he be stupid or not?"
"Fools" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday [OCT. 7 AND 8] and 3 p.m. Saturday in the Chalmers Herman Theatre in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center. Seating is limited.
Playwright Simon called the family-friendly play a comic fable, Groetzinger said.
"This play is about how we allow people to label us," he said, "and how we react to those labels. If people are told they're stupid, they start to believe it and they start acting stupidly."
Leon, played by Keifer Truett of Ada, is so smitten, however, he vows to do whatever it takes, for the rest of his life, if necessary, to make Sophia "the way she might have been."
"It's very difficult to write a play about stupidity that doesn't make sense," Groetzinger said.
For example, the butcher sweeps dust into his store, the townsfolk answer questions with really strange answers and many have trouble remembering their own names.
Leon, the new schoolmaster charged with teaching the beautiful Sophia, assures her he will break the curse that makes everyone in her village stupid before he falls victim to the curse himself in a scene from "Fools," the Neil Simon comedy that opens Thursday at East Central University. Keifer Truett of Ada plays Leon and Kelli Clark of Valliant plays Sophia. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday [OCT. 7 AND 8] and 3 p.m. Saturday in the Chalmers Herman Theatre in the Hallie Brown Ford Fine Arts Center. For ticket information, call 559-5600.
"You wonder how they wash their clothes, why their hair isn't down to their knees," Groetzinger said. "But somehow they get through every day. They do the things they need to do.
"Some of the things the characters say sound kind of smart," he added. "They are selectively stupid."
The play is set in 1891 in a simple peasant village, Kulyenchikov. The curse of Kulyenchikov started 200 years earlier when a handsome but illiterate farmer named Casimir Yousekevitch fell in love with the daughter of the most learned man in the town. Her name also was Sophia Zubritsky.
Her educated father forbade her to ever see the farmer again and she married someone else. The distraught farmer "took his life by plowing his own grave and planting himself in it," and his father set a curse on the townspeople. They would be stupid forever, never know love and could never leave Kulyenchikov.
There was a way to end the curse, however. A Zubritsky's intellect had to be raised in 24 hours -- or a Zubritsky had to marry a Yousekevitch.
Thus, Count Gregor Yousekevitch, the last of the Yousekevitch line, proposes marriage to Sophia twice a day, at 6:15 in the morning and 7:20 at night, just to avenge his ancestors.
Sophia, played by Kelli Clark of Valliant, has said no for many years, but she can't resist for much longer.
"The poor girl wants to sleep late just one morning," sighs her mother, Lenya Zubritsky, who will be portrayed by Jessica Pruitt of Broken Bow.
Chris Scoles of Ada will be Dr. Zubritsky, and Heath Holt of Ada will be seen as Gregor Yousekevitch.
Others in the cast are Andrew Long of Coalgate as Snetsky, the sheep loser; Jeff Spears of Ada as the magistrate; Jon A. Romano of Coalgate as Slovitch, the butcher; Jeff Bush of Bowlegs as Mishkin, the postman; and Abby Marks of Stratford as Yenchna, a vendor.
Tickets are $5 for adults and $4 for non-ECU students and senior citizens. Alumni Association members will receive a $1 discount. ECU students, faculty and staff will be admitted free with valid ECU ID cards. Tickets can be reserved by calling Groetzinger at 580-559-5600. They should be picked up at the theatre at least 15 minutes before the show starts.
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