Written by Carol Van Zoeren, October 22, 2018
Although a bit of a period piece (from 1988), Neil Simon’s closest attempt at farce rings true today. Yes, one must suspend disbelief that any mover and shaker’s reputation would be seriously threatened by the scandal of having a friend who attempted suicide. Today’s confessional culture lauds such faux-empathy as being “authentic.” Emphasis on faux, since the true motivation is self-interest. And it is relevant today, since such potential-scandal-in-the-making leads those in power, as many characters in Rumors admit, to make things up. In a nutshell, it’s rich people behaving badly. And it’s hysterical how they become contortionists, mentally and often physically, to serve their own self interests.
Director Luke Wallis has assembled a terrific ensemble cast who do not fear, nay embrace, the opportunity to look foolish. Given my experience with runaway train farces, I worried that they’d started at too high a pitch, which could get irritatingly screechy after 2+ hours. And here I give a nod to Mr. Simon, who often takes the most-recently-over-the-top character off stage for a while to cool the heck down. Above I called this Mr. Simon’s “closest attempt at farce.” But now I see it more as his re-imagining farce. In a good way. Still, my farce radar makes me count doors — there are five in this gorgeous set designed by Helene DelNegro. Director Luke Wallis moved his large cast around this playground with great fun.
So yes, the context, the script, the set are all great. And now I must direct my praise to the ensemble cast. These actors portray four couples, and each pairing artfully portrays a well-delineated state of marital bliss…or lack thereof. That is, until Act 2, when the increasingly ridiculous subterfuge requires many of them to pretend to be married to someone else.
The audience delights that the characters are just a confused as we are!
Within this ensemble, each actor also gets a chance to shine. All are excellent, yet I must highlight two. Melissa Davenport’s portrayal of odd-duck Cookie Cusack is a deliciously kooky mash-up of Julia Child and Madame Arcati — aided by the perfect costume by Laurene Eckbold. And Zachary Jackson as Lenny Ganz repeatedly “Goes to Eleven” (Spinal Tap reference) at personal risk to life and limb. Jackson’s character is the most noted recipient of Mr. Simon’s wisdom to give an over-the-top character a time out, because when he comes back with a lengthy and absolutely absurd monologue about what “really happened,” we are eager to go along with him for the ride.
Do yourself a favor — go belly laugh for a couple hours at someone else’s expense. It’s not mean-spirited; it’s exactly what the Rumors company is going for!