Neil Simon is the playwright who kept community theatre alive and well from the 1960s through the 90s with his incomparable collection of 30-some laugh-a-minute plays; the prolific humorist didn’t do too bad on Broadway, TV and the movies, also!
Tacoma Little Theatre proves Simon’s oldies are still goodies with the theatre’s 99th Season opener, “Rumors.”
Simon has turned the era’s obsession with the Country Club way of life for the nouveau riche and political hopefuls into an evening of raucous hilarity reminiscent of a Comedie Delle Arte farce.
“Rumors” is a simple little story based on the idea of what would happen if someone gave a party and no one came? Only, this time, Simon says, “What would happen if someone gave and party and everyone came, except for the host and hostess?”
From opening curtain, the actors go wild with the first guest, Chris Gorman, wandering about the stage trying to figure if she should take a cigarette and break her 18-month “I’ve Quit” vow to ease her dilemma. Moments later, her husband Ken throws open the upstairs bedroom door screaming orders to her. Chris screams back to him and the mayhem starts.
It seems that four couples have been invited to attend the 10th wedding anniversary party of their good friends Charlie Brock, the Deputy Mayor of New York, and his wife, Myra. The only problem is that the Gormans, the first to arrive, find Myra nowhere to be found and Charlie bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound. To make things worse, the butler and maid have disappeared and the party is non-existent – no decorations — no food – and worst – no drinks!
As the evening grows older, the plot grows more complicated due to the arrival of more guests who worm out the evening’s happenings from the two be-leagued friends who are so befuddled and just unhappy that for once they were early to a party.
With each new arrival, comes another problem. Like when the Ganz couple arrives and Lenny informs all that he has just had his brand new BMW totaled and suffers from whiplash. However, most of the problems are caused by the salacious rumors going around the country club about present and absent members. Each addition builds the laughter to guffaws. Finally, the police enter causing a brief moment of sanity until Lenny Ganz, posing as the absent host appears center stage and tries to explain to the cops his version of what really happened this hapless night. Unbelievably, the police believe him and happily exit the premises – as do the rest of the cast – almost! All of which leaves the audience holding its sides and rolling on the floor, waiting for the final shoe to drop!
Erin Chanfrau directs this insanity and makes it all seem so possible it’s easy for the audience to laugh at the impossible situations. Chanfrau uses every inch of the massive set and all the talents of her cast to achieve the perfect desire she wants from the production.
Technical Director Blake R. York does the set design which replicates a typical upper-middle class split-level home of the times with a front door stage right center, leading to a staircase going to the upstairs bedroom doors; downstairs, the stage left goes off to the kitchen; the up center stage area is resplendent with a well-stocked bar. Downstage right has the guest bathroom and another door with the center stage left open for the living room.
Jeffery Weaver dresses the set and does props. Niclas Olson does the light design. Michele Graves does costumes. Gabi Marler nicely debuts as Stage Manager.
Chanfrau has chosen a fine cast of tried-and-true as well as a few new faces to the TLT audiences.
Andy Bravo, a newcomer to TLT, has few lines as Officer Pudney; however, he gives a stalwart believable performance of the confused arm of the law.
Neicie Packer is Officer Welch, the senior member of the force. Packer delivers her lines with officious knowledge mixed with the confusion the situation calls for while she exuded confidence in her role.
Houston White is Glenn Cooper, the budding politician who is running for the state senate. White moves about the stage with the self-assuredness of his character while he attempts to use his impending position to exert his importance. The actor has a nice look and a nice understanding of his role,
Kristen Blegen Bouyer is his wife, Cassie. Bouyer makes her TLT debut in the role of the crystal-addicted wife of an almost-important man. She acts overwhelmed by the rumors of her husband’s supposed trysts with another member of the country club. Bouyer drifts from disappointment in her husband’s rumored infidelity to her addiction at the drop of a crystal and the actor enjoys every minute of it.
Jeffery Swiney-Weaver, who also is Resident Prop Master, plays Ernie Cusack a psychologist, who should have most of the cast as patients, but seems to be content with just tending to his wife’s idiosyncrasies. Swiney-Weaver is delightful in the role of the helpful boob who doesn’t quite get what’s happening. Well, so what? Nobody does! The audience just laughs at the situations and Swiney-Weaver makes it laugh harder.
Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson is Ernie’s kooky wife Cookie. Ferguson is over the top as the unpredictable friend with a back as crooked as the periodic spasms which grip her in the most improbable moments. The very flexible actor walks bent like a hairpin on her feet and hands because she says “It’s easier on my back this way.” If the audience can believe that, there’s no reason they should doubt the veracity of the situation. Ferguson is one funny lady.
Jess Allan is Chris Gorman, the first to try to straighten out the situation with very little success. Allan gives her character the feeling of being so unsure of what has happened that she seems to be in a perpetual daze. Allan flitters about the stage as much wrapped up in her character as she becomes in the wire connecting the headset to the telephone the actor often answers. Her one-ups-man-ship with her husband is a screaming match with which to be reckoned.
Mark Peterson is Ken Gorman. Peterson plays the good friend who tries to save the never-present host from the political embarrassment of the dilemma. His good intentions sometime cause more harm than help in the most comical way. Peterson is a good actor who maintains his character nicely. No matter the absurdity he acts his way through it.
Jill Heinecke is Claire Ganz, one of the prime members of the rumor-mongers within the country club. Heinecke plays a wide-eyed “Who, me?” know-it-all who delights at any added hint of gossip, which she readily passes on. Heinecke has a good delivery ably shifting from concerned friend to eager information gather at the hint of a rumor. Nice character development.
Matt Garry is Lenny Ganz. Garry makes an impressive TLT debut with the role of the friend who has just had his new car T-boned. Garry is a charming addition to the friends; he shows his true feelings for Charlie by agreeing to take his place in order to explain what has happened during the evening when the police demand to talk to the sleeping host. Garry spends about eight minutes ranting and raving about the stage in a singled, uninterrupted sentence describing the implausible events of the night so well that the cops believe him. Garry’s efforts are met with a rousing, well-deserved audience ovation.
“Rumors” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through October 1 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. There is also a special Pay-What- You-Can performance scheduled at 7:30 p.m. for Thursday, September 28.
For more information or to make reservations call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Rumors” is a great way to begin the build-up to TLT’s 100th Season, which is one short year away. Just think, if this show is so good – imagine what the old girl will hit her audiences with in the 2018 – 2019 Season.
Get your tickets now to enjoy the rest of this season and to be among the first in line for the venerable theatre’s Centennial Season.