by Hugh Hunter
When “Rumors” (1988) debuted on Broadway, Neil Simon subtitled his play “A Farce.” But the boisterous show now running at Allens Lane Theater eludes any neat definition of comedy.
Charley Brock, the deputy mayor, and his wife Myra plan to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary by inviting four married couples to their house party. But we never meet the Brocks. As guests arrive, Charley is upstairs in bed because he shot himself in the ear, and Myra is nowhere to be found.
Act one is a madcap romp, reminiscent of Simon’s salad days with Sid Caesar. Ken (Vincent Raffaele) and wife Chris (Claire Drake) are first to arrive, two attorneys dressed in elegant evening attire. You watch them make matters worse with their frantic telephone calls and hysterical arguments.
Rumors and stories swirl as Chris and Ken struggle to keep Charley’s shooting a secret from the arriving guests. We meet high-flying accountant Leonard (Don Gimpel) and comically petulant wife Claire (Janet Wasser). Then, psychiatrist Ernie (Andrew Maksymowych) and his oddball wife, Cookie (Dawn Varava), arrive.
Glenn (Thomas Boland), an ambitious politician, and his sensual wife Cassie (Kellie Cooper) complete the party. A fresh set of lies and rumors greets each new arrival, but by act two everyone knows the truth about Charley.
And you know this cast just had a ball in rehearsals as each actor takes full advantage of Simon’s quirky script. How these kooky characters look and move is often more funny than what they say, and the living room turns into a battlefield as their self-inflicted wounds pile up.
Finally, Officer Welch (Thomas Abraham) shows up to investigate a shooting complaint. A no-nonsense blue collar man, he slowly circles through the assembled nouveau riche, smacking his baton into his palm. He has the funniest line of the night: “I always have trouble with this neighborhood.”
The stage design of director Noel Hanley is striking. Set in a posh New York suburb, the living room is opulent with its white balcony, lights and colorful furnishings. Most couples wear tuxedos and tight-fitting evening gowns, their glamorous appearance contrasting with inner torment.
I do not know what Simon had in mind, but “Rumors” fails as farce. Why not toss off the shooting as a simple accident? Why is there such a need to keep the truth from Charley’s friends? There is no genuine urgency here, and you never believe these people have much at stake.
But what flops as farce shines as satire. Simon’s whimsical portrait of an emerging Yuppie world holds up today, a vision of largely oblivious, upper middle class professionals caught up in their sense of privilege. Simon even takes a dig at himself. When everyone congratulates Leonard for his outrageous monologue to Officer Welch, Leonard replies, “I had no idea where that story was going.”
Allens Lane Theater is located at 601 W. Allens Lane in West Mt. Airy. “Rumors” runs through Dec 4. Tickets available at 215-248-0546 or at allenslane.org.