" Fools" by Neil Simon comes to TTU Backdoor Playhouse

This is a play the entire family can enjoy, a "light, frothy" tale filled with silliness, chronic stupidity and, well, not much more.

"Fools," a comedy by renowned playwright Neil Simon, is the Spring production of Tennessee Tech University's Backdoor Playhouse to be performed April 26-May 5. Produced by special arrangement with Samuel French Inc., the dates and times:

April 26, 27, 28 and May 4 and 5 at 8 p.m.

April 30 and May 3 at 2 p.m.

April 29 at 10 p.m.

"Neil Simon calls this play a 'comic fable' -- it has a light silliness to it and it almost seems like the characters should break out into song, like a musical," said Mark Creter, director of the play and the Backdoor Playhouse.

"It's just a big, dumb play, which is an interesting show for me and the Tech Players because we have been doing so many serious, sometimes dark, productions this year," he added.

"So this play is a nice break and is definitely one to bring the entire family to see," said Creter. "We're trying to set a cartoon feel to this production and my hope is that everyone will take away a good laugh from this."

The story of "Fools" takes place in Kulyenchikov, a Russian village that, from all appearances, is idyllic. However, the tragedy of the villagers' lives is that they've all been cursed with chronic stupidity for 200 years. Out of desperation, they hire a young school teacher, Leon Tolchinsky, to break the curse. What they don't tell Leon, though, is that if he fails in his efforts, he, too, will become stupid. And he has just 24 hours to put an end to the curse.

"I've been watching a lot of W.C. Fields and early Mel Brooks, mining comedy bits and plenty of sight gags from their performances to include them in 'Fools,'" Creter said.

"Comedy is tremendously difficult -- you have to learn timing and you always face the question, 'What is funny?' Well, IÕm trying to work it all in."

"Now, on the surface, 'Fools' is very silly, kind of a romantic comedy. But Neil Simon is a very smart writer. There are some interesting ideas put forth in this silly play, but you have to look for them," Creter added. "But there is also a real innocence to it that I like."

This year's Spring production marks the 11th anniversary of the Dorothy Pennebaker Fund, which funds each Spring production of the Backdoor Playhouse.

Mrs. Pennebaker, an English teacher at Tennessee Tech more than 50 years ago, is credited with starting the Tech Players in the late 1940s, Creter explained. Students at that time were inspired by a visiting Shakespeare troupe and wanted to start their own drama troupe. Mrs. Pennebaker encouraged and sponsored them and her legacy lives on today.

"She was the woman behind the Tech Players and the Backdoor Playhouse -- she even hung the original Backdoor Playhouse sign over the door of the theater," Creter said.

Tickets for "Fools" are $5 for general admission and $3 for students and senior citizens. Reservations can also be made by calling (931) 372-6595.

Cast members are Leon, played by Matt Bassett; Snetsky by Patrick Mannle; Magistrate by Adam Cravens; Slovitch by Collin Gerberding; Mishkin by Aaron Piepmeier; Yenchna by Heather Whitley; Dr. Zubritsky by Rob Wheeler; Lenya Zubritsky by Eleni Fragapolis-Davis; and Gregor Yousekevitch by Sean Dietz.
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