Following an unhappy marriage, Neil Simon wanted to cheer himself up. So he penned "Rumors" (1988), his first and only farce.
Following an unhappy marriage, Neil Simon wanted to cheer himself up. So he penned "Rumors" (1988), his first and only farce. It opens with riotous commotion in this production at The Stagecrafters Theater, then continues in that vein for two hours to keep you curiously entertained.
Married couple Chris and Ken Gorman scream at each as they rush about the stage. They are the first dinner guests of their good friend Charlie Brock, deputy mayor of New York. They plan to help Charlie celebrate his tenth wedding anniversary. Instead, they find him in the upstairs bedroom where he shot himself in the head.
Charlie is a bad shot. He only wounded himself in the ear lobe and is now sleeping it off with the help of valium. Still, Chris and Ken are left with a problem: How can they protect Charlie's political reputation in the aftermath of an apparent suicide attempt? Let the show begin.
Even before this incident, the marriage of Charlie and his wife Myra was beset by rumors. We hear about, but never see, guttersnipe gossips Carol Neuman and Harold Green, members of the local tennis club who drop hints that both Charlie and Myra are "seeing somebody."
Troubled marriage is the norm in "Rumors." Three more couples arrive. While everyone gets enmeshed in the suicide cover-up ruse, our attention is drawn to their silliness. One couple is combative, others are caustic, snarky, or eccentric.
You are in Snedens Landing, N.Y. (present-day Palisades, N.Y.), a bucolic Manhattan suburb nestled along the Hudson. Every character is a professional – lawyer, therapist, tax consultant, TV host, or politician. No one suffers from a lack of money. Everyone suffers from ill-defined ennui.
Neil Simon is always fun and Stagecrafters puts the show across. The set design by Lavinia DeCastro Walsh and Richard Stewart is remarkably restful, with its winding second-floor stairwell and mauve coloring. That serenity is transformed once it is populated with Simon's manic folks, bursting in and out of the many exits and doors.
These couples stand out more as individuals. They thrash about incessantly. Blocking during rehearsals must have been an adventure. Yet the pace is fast, and I suspect director Patrick Martin was surprised by the show's quick running time on opening night.
"Rumors" presents a mix of comedy. There is physical humor – Cookie’s back spasms, Lenny's whiplash injury, Glenn's busted nose. There are Simon's one-liner exit and entry lines and characters who talk past each other in self-absorption or wry misgiving. Ken turns into a master of the malapropism when he temporarily loses his hearing.
The actors give the show its crackle. Director Martin's cast includes several newcomers to Stagecrafters. Don Allen's formal costuming helps explain why you cannot take your eyes off them, acting chops do the rest. Everyone is so lost in zany autonomy you suspect a genuine relationship is not possible.
Actors take turns stealing the spotlight. As Chris Gorman, Kathleen Mulhearn is the essence of hysteria in the opening scenes. Victoria Glock-Molloy plays her friend, Claire Ganz, who captivates you with the sultry way she keeps her distance from everyone.
Their husbands, too, are scene stealers. Tom Libonate (Ken Gorman) is amusing in failing to be the man in charge. Brendan Sterling (Lenny Ganz) is endearing as Simon's edgy storyteller stand-in, when not suffering from whiplash.
Two other distracted couples grab your attention. Mare Kenney plays Cookie Cusack, an eccentric cooking show hostess. Ross Druker is her husband, Ernie, whose therapist skills are markedly insufficient when it comes to dealing with the loonies in the room.
Brandon Tabb plays Glenn Cooper, now running for the state senate in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. You doubt he is ready for prime time since he cannot handle his wife Cassie (Natalie Merlino), who flirts with Ken and Lenny after losing her magic crystal in the toilet.
"Rumors" does not hold up as a traditional farce because the premise – the need to protect Charlie's reputation – is too weak. It does give Simon a platform for his funny-sad take on relationships. Police officers Welch (Sam Dressler) and Pudney (Jessica Stahl) arrive to incite a happy ending. The troubled, happy ending is Neil Simon's calling card.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. "Rumors" will run through June 25. Tickets at 215-247-8881 or at stagecrafters.org