Fools, TinFish Theatre. The themes of comedy may be as universal as those of tragedy, but they’re often so tied to a particular time and place as to be incomprehensible elsewhere. Yet Neil Simon in this “comic fable” of a village (obviously the famous Chelm of Jewish folklore) liberated from the curse of cluelessness by a clever schoolmaster forges from the ancient xenophobic tales a parable whose lessons resonate with disturbing familiarity.

Simon–the master of the lightning-fast quip, who proved in The Good Doctor that even Chekhov can be funny nowadays–understandably devotes most of the script to patter, relying on the proposition that foolish behavior is plentiful the world over. And the drollery of the local meshuggenim might easily tempt energetic young actors to self-indulgent scattershot slapstick. But the TinFish cast has taken care to ground even the most juvenile gags–a villain with a pronounced lisp, for example, and a shepherd whose voice squeaks a la Andy Devine–in clearly defined characters and precision-machined dialogue. The actors’ obvious enthusiasm for their material and ease with one another–rare in storefront productions, which are often underrehearsed–amplify Simon’s humanitarian (but not utopian) plea for enlightenment through education, producing an infectious optimism sorely needed in this fin de siecle New Year.

–Mary Shen Barnidge