“Fools” comes to DMACC

Yenchna the vendor played Anna Fogarty (left), Leon played by Montana Slagel (center), Dr. Zubritsky played by Dustin Reiber (right)

After a yearlong hiatus, DMACC theatre returns with the production of “Fools.” Under new direction, with new actors, and in the new Black Box Theatre, Neil Simon’s comedy from the 80s is set in the 1890s.

The new theatre instructor Carl Lindberg directs the show. He came to DMACC from Chicago after working professionally as an actor, director, designer, and producer, and he has been here since only January 3.

He faces the challenge, greets you at the door, and is legitimately excited to put on a show for the people of DMACC.

Lindberg says there are many reasons why he chose “Fools” as the first play to put on: “I thought it would be funny and something that students would enjoy watching and family members could come to and it would give opportunities for a variety of skill levels of actors.” These are practical considerations, but his directing certainly reveals an artistic background.

The play is being put on in the Black Box Theatre in Building 5. When asked “Why the black box?,” as opposed to the larger and more traditional auditorium, Lindburg said,

“The auditorium is actually not well-suited for contemporary theatre. The Black Box on the other hand has a lot of modern capabilities in that it is entirely flexible. I’m not limited to putting the audience on one side–we are performing Fools in a thrust. There is audience on three sides, and the actors are right in the middle of those three sides.”

By performing the play in Black Box, Lindberg says he is able to “provide students with a professional opportunity. The actors are getting to actually getting to work in a traditional storefront theatre in which the majority of the actual professional actors are working in.”

It is clear Lindberg wants to make sure students, and the audience, are given the most authentic theatre experience he can give.

“My hope is to give students the opportunity to work in a professional model so they are prepared to work theatre at a four-year university and theatre in the real world.”

The crew (including stage manager Bailey Perkins, light designer Paige Seward, and assistant stage managers Alex Brown and Brocklund Larson) have bright spirits despite the obstacles they have overcome, such as not having dressing rooms or wide enough doors to load in stage material.

Lindberg acknowledges, “There are some challenges in that we are starting in a fairly basic starting place,” but he saw it as an “opportunity,” in no small part “because it is a blank slate.”

Dustin Reiber plays Dr. Zubritsky the town doctor and father to Sophia, who is Leon’s pupil and must learn to think to break the curse. Reiber is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force but acted throughout high school.

He said he is very excited to get back on stage.

“I kind of got bit by the theatre bug again. This is my first play in like 14 years so it’s great to come back and kind of get back into the swing of things and rehearse and interact with people and memorize lines and do blocking. It’s fun to get back into it, it’s exciting. It’s exhilarating.”

Slagel, who plays Leon, said he was worried about learning his lines but was also very excited about the play.

“It’s my first time acting, it was always something I have been interested in, so I’m just kind of soaking it all in and trying to take advantage of it. I’ve had a lot of fun.”

Both Reiber and Slagel said that they have enjoyed rehearsals and enjoyed getting to know their fellow actors.

Slagel said, “Going into it, I didn’t know anybody too well. It’s been a lot of fun making new friends here at DMACC.”

Leon played by Montana Slagel (left), Count Gregor played by Wayne Black (center), Dr. Zubritsky played by Dustin Rieber (right)

The play follows a schoolteacher named Leon Steponovich Tolchinsky, played by Montana Slagel, in his first acting role. It is set in the fictional village of Kulvenchikov, Ukraine, during the late 19th century. Despite the foreign names and timelines, “Fools” engages its contemporary audience and hits very close to home.

Period-appropriate live violin (played by Luke Nestigen) introduces the world before Slagel enters the Black Box to formally present Kulvenchikov, a village we quickly learn is “cursed” to be stupid.

Leon, coming to the town after reading an ad for a desperately-needed teacher, finds himself baffled by townspeople including Something Something Snetsky the sheepherder (Kaylie Bricker), Mishkin the mailperson (Nathaniel Byerly), Slovitch the butcher (JonnaDeane Laughlin), Yenchna the vendor (Anna Fogarty), and the magistrate (Spencer Reineke), who collectively and respectively can’t seem to find their sheep, deliver mail, butcher properly, sell flowers as fish, or do much real legal work besides counting the time.

Worse, Leon learns he has a mere 24 hours to break the curse by teaching his pupil, Sophia (Emma Banner), or he himself will become stupid. But Sophia’s parents, Dr. Zubritsky (Dustin Rieber) and Lenya Zubritsky (Carley White), plus the villain Count Gregor Youskevitch (Wayne Black), obstruct him at every turn. (Black, by the way, a local playwright and self-described lover of the arts, quickly becomes a crowd favorite with his objectively hilarious three-dimensional portrayal of what might ordinarily be a two-dimensional villain.)

I saw the opening performance of Fools on the April 7 in the Black Box Theatre. As Lindberg described, the “stage” is set in the middle of the theatre with the seats surrounding and facing in, towards the center.

If you’re in an aisle seat, expect to be brushed by the actors’ funnily unwieldy costumes as they breeze in and out of the scene.

The play begins with Leon giving background—he and the other characters often break the fourth wall (though, in the Black Box, the distinction between audience and cast is already blurred)—on why he came to Kulvenchikov.

We follow Leon’s story as the townspeople started coming onto the stage and we began to get a feel for the town, which was charming with its moving and colorful set design.

Lindberg was right: the Black Box is better than any auditorium at pulling the audience into the world crafted by set and stage.

It all created an environment for “Fools” to be funny from the start and allow the actors to engage with the audience. New theatregoers like me will delight in the actors who, instead of pretending like we were not there, included us in part of their story.

“Fools” is a comedy, which allows it to pull back the curtain on a serious issue in a not so serious way. The script uses punchy one-liners to expose underlying themes of love, want, and inevitability.

In all, “Fools” is a well-acted, well-directed, well-crafted, and well-scripted play. It’s a strong re-start to the theatre program here at DMACC, and for a ticket price of zero dollars, it’s a bargain for the audience too.

“Fools” had its first performances on April 7 and 8 and will be performed again in the Student Activities Center on April 14 and 15. It is recommended that you get tickets online ahead of time as seating is limited.

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