by Neil Simon
Directed by Alex Burkart
Los Angeles New Court Theatre
Fools was the opening production for The Los Angeles New Court Theatre’s first season. I took my first steps into conceptual theatre with this play, focusing on the traditional and historical idea of a “fool” rather than the stupid sense of the word that is seen at the play’s face value. Delving into this idea opened up a remarkable world that I was very fortunate to share with audiences for the play’s successful run.
“Fools” or “clowns” have been around for centuries and they were often thought to be highly intelligent beings that often brought performance outside of the world of carnival and into daily lives. Royalty often looked to these performers for not only entertainment but logic. Looking at the play through this lens became a vital role for the play’s creative process.
Staging for the play was done in a deliberate, accentuated, and presentational manner. The final product encompassed a performance reminiscent of something created by Brecht. The audience was to see this play as an ensemble of “fools” performing a fable; something a traveling band of actors may have done hundreds of years ago. Actors would play instruments for the performance’s sound effects; towers and buildings were replaced by ladders, crates, and curtains; elaborate dresses and suits were replaced by tattered costumes one might find in a locked up trunk. These elements were ultimately successful in that it allowed the audience to come to the performers, learning a whole new world of boundaries and permissions.
Character work was inspired by the work of clowns and clown influenced characters. This included: the world of Beckett, Restoration fops, commedia dell’arte, and classic animation.
Set design was inspired by classic woodcut prints that one may see in an old book of classic fables, weighted with the idea of children’s finger paints. This very simple design proved to be transformative in that it supported our overall mission to achieve a world where the “fools” and “performers” governed all; that everything on stage was essentially created by actors themselves.
The entire production concept was supported by the playwright’s text and characters, mounting on the quick witted foundation that is the heart of every Neil Simon play. This allowed me as a director to add a delightful new artistic layer that was truly individual and enjoyable to experience.