Ben Sharff as Ernie Cusack is befuddled, despite being Charley's analyst. On the other hand, maybe he can be excused, as his wife, Cookie, is beyond ditsy. Lisa Fritschle plainly enjoys being the accident-prone TV cooking-show host who has back spasms that force her to crawl around on all-fours, even when she agrees to prepare the uncooked food.
The last couple are quarrelsome Glenn and Cassie Cooper (nicely drawn by Robert Gonzalez and Chelsea Ortuno), who begin sniping at one another about perceived adultery and such as soon as they enter the home.
Lawyer Ken Gorman (Jared Stevens) is questioned by a police officer (Carlos Alvarado).Photo: Dylan Brainard
Theresa Bishop (left) and Megan Van DykePhoto: David Nobles
Glenn (Robert Gonzalez) and Cassie (Chelsea Ortuno) snipe at each other
April 8, 2015
The scuttlebutt is that Neil Simon's only
farce is playing at The Vex. Pass it on.
Yep, it's true, Simon's “Rumors” (1988), the
piece that the quip-master wrote just for the
heck of it, was the inaugural production 16
years ago at the Sheldon Vexler Theatre at
the Jewish Community Center. Directed with
his tongue firmly in his cheek by Michael
Burger, the show is paced like a slightly
wobbly but really fast merry-go-round: A
speedy ride, slightly out of kilter and great
fun. With such stage business as characters
getting tangled and re-tangled in a long,
coiled phone cord, Mr. Burger reveals his
commitment to Simon's verbal – not to mention physical –pratfalls. A strong, lively acting ensemble makes the madness work.
Simon told an interviewer that he wrote the piece because he had never written a farce before, but wanted it to be elegant, as were those of Molière. His solution was to put his characters in evening dress as a “counterpoint to the chaos that was happening in the play.”
The story deals with deputy New York City
mayor Charley Brock, who has shot himself
in the earlobe shortly before the expected
arrival of a houseful of guests in honor of his
10th wedding anniversary. His wife, Myra, is
nowhere to be found, there are no servants
on hand and a kitchenful of oven-ready food
has not been prepared.
His lawyer frantically hatches an outlandish
cover-up in hopes of saving Charley's political
future. He is afraid to call the police or a
doctor until they can concoct the right story.
The resulting web of lie-filled rumors grows
and metastasizes until every well-heeled
newcomer to the party is trapped and
wriggling with anger and frustration. All of
the guests are outrageous – some more than
others – tailor-made characters to deliver
Simon's signature barbs and throwaway lines.
Honors for hilarious scenery-munching go to
Jared Stevens as lawyer Ken Gorman, who is
merely frantic and shrill when he first
discovers his client's situation. Later, he
suffers temporary deafness because of a wild but loud offstage gunshot and goes off the rails. Megan Van Dyke is his believably agitated and sarcastic wife, Chris. Theresa Bishop (the sole actor from the original Vex show, but here in a different role) and Scott Leibowitz play Claire and Lenny, whose new BMW was in a fender-bender enroute to the party. His mood is already dark when he is told the made-up story about his host. He demands the truth and more madness ensues.
Once the police (Carlos Alvarado and Erin Polewski) finally arrive, Lenny puts a bandage over his ear and pretends to be Charley. His explanation to the police is an amazing, deliciously convoluted – and completely invented – monologue that actors sometimes use for auditions.
Things get even stranger right up to the final curtain, but you have to be there.
Ken Frazier's handsome, well-appointed set has the requisite multiple doors demanded by the genre of farce, yet they don't seem out of place. Traffic is busy, but Mr. Burger and company keep it under control.
Sophia Bolles' elegant costumes, beautiful evening wear, accomplish the playwright's stated counterpoint. And we loved the garish sparkly caftan worn by Cookie, whom Mr. Simon insisted be dressed in a “god-awful” gown.
Spread the word, “Rumors” is a hoot!
“Rumors” runs through May 31 in the Sheldon Vexler Theatre at the Jewish Community Center. Call 302-6835.