“Rumors,” Neil Simon’s first farce, premiered in 1988. Like many farces it depends on confusion, lots of exits and entrances, and fast ripostes. Some of this the play delivers very well and some feels quite dated — references, gender roles, the homogeneousness of the couples — heck, the very fact that everyone is coupled. Even the police in the final 15 minutes or so come as a couple, sort of — one male lead officer and his younger female partner. This play creaks a bit, but it is a light, diverting romp in ridiculousness.
…this cast takes the material and has a rollicking good time with it…
The setting is a dinner party, even though we never see the host and hostess — Charlie, a deputy mayor of New York City and his wife Myra. Charlie is in the master bathroom upstairs “indisposed” and Myra has disappeared and that sets the scene for the antics to come. It’s a 10th wedding anniversary dinner party and the couple’s closest friends/associates are there. The slightly nebbish Ken is his lawyer and tries to stage manage the entire evening to prevent any news from leaking out that might reflect badly on Charlie’s future political hopes.
The show has its charms still, and this is due in large part to the actors, the sets, and the costumes. This ensemble cast mostly meets the fast-paced criteria and physical requirements for hi-jinks and over-the-top reactions.
Standouts are Jayne L. Victor as Claire Ganz and Mike Donahue as Lenny Ganz. Victor is channeling her inner Eve Arden and she has an ineffable talent for timing and the wry throw-away that just brings laughter. Donahue meets her with his equally superb timing His insanely rapid-fire summing up at the end for the police officers (who appear in belated response to the sound of a gunshot) is a perfect flourish near the end of the play.
One of Simon’s conceits in this work is to have all of the women’s names start with C, and the majority of the men’s names rhyme (ala Ken, Len, Glen). So we have Chris Gorman (Stephanie Chu Rudden) as a lawyer who doesn’t think very quickly on her feet; Ken Gorman (Mike Rudden) who gives off intermittent shades of Cary Grant in one of his beleaguered comedies; Ernie Cusack (Peter Halverson) basically Cookie’s husband and a psychiatrist; Cookie Cusack (Janice Rivera) who has her own cooking show; Glenn Cooper (Kirk Lambert) as a politician running for the state senate in Albany with delusions of grandeur; and his wife, Cassie Cooper (Eileen Copas) who loves crystals and uses her mane of auburn hair as both barometer of her moods and as a weapon.
Office Welch is gamely played by Joe Dzikiewicz, who has a lot of fun with a role that seems modeled after the police in “Arsenic and Old Lace.” The final cast member is Officer Pudney, played by Eileen Copas. Pudney is a thankless role, seemingly only to be there as a work handmaiden to Officer Welch and to provide even numbers for the cast. Copas is physically nimble in the role and can give side-eye with the best.
Costume designer Judy Whelihan has outfitted the cast in beautiful gowns, tuxedos, suits, and in one case, a Polish peasant costume to indicate the wearer’s eccentricity (Cookie). Her attention to details that capture a character includes subtle touches such as Ken’s pants that are just a hair too short for suavity and Lenny’s exquisitely polished shoes, among others.
The set is lovely. Designed by Charles Dragonette, constructed by Julie Fischer and Dan Remmers, and assisted by a very talented group, it evokes a late-1980s feel of upper-class (not fabulously wealthy, but definitely very comfortable) fussiness and pretension.
All in all, while the farce hasn’t really aged that well, this cast takes the material and has a rollicking good time with it— enough to elicit some real belly laughs and keep interest from flagging. I look forward to seeing these actors again. It’s a pleasant diversion for a summer evening or afternoon.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with a 10 minute intermission.
Advisory: Adult language, drinking, smoking.
“Rumors” runs through August 14, 2021, in person at the Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street
Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, please click here.