The prolific Neil Simon has written nearly three dozen plays (including several musicals) and a long string of screenplays. In his five-decade career as America’s preeminent writer of stage comedies, the Pulitzer Prize winner has experimented stylistically, taking audiences from the belly laughs of The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys to deeper autobiographically inspired plays such as Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues and Broadway Bound.
Rumors, written in 1988, is Simon’s successful stab at traditional farce.
Now at the Stage Door Theatre in Coral Springs, the play has all the elements on a farce checklist: seven doors to slam (or not), stairs that will require one character to run up and down all evening (who needs a Stairmaster?), a crisis that drives the play, eight upper-class characters intent on avoiding or denying the truth. And, of course, a script full of deceptions, absurdities and laughs.
Rumors takes place in the elegant suburban home of Charlie Brock, deputy mayor of New York, and his wife Myra. The couple is throwing a dinner party to celebrate their 10th anniversary, but nothing is going as planned. Myra and the servants are missing, no food has been prepared, and Charlie (who is never seen onstage) is upstairs in the master bedroom nursing a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the earlobe. That’s Simon’s setup for the carefully crafted shenanigans that follow.
Each of the four elegantly attired couples arriving for the party copes with the confounding situation and potential scandal differently.
Ken Gorman (Richard Brundage) and his wife Chris (Jill Taylor Anthony) are first on the scene, nervous (Chris really wants to fall off the nonsmoking wagon) and determined to keep the situation hush-hush. Accountant Lenny Ganz (Matthew Korinko) and his tart-tongued wife Claire (Niki Fridh) arrive with their own crisis, Lenny suffering a whiplash injury from an accident in his brand-new BMW on the way to the party.
Shrink Ernie Cusack (Stephen Michael Guice) and his TV chef wife Cookie (Christine DeFrece) try to salvage the dinner part of the evening once the others stop lying about the situation. State senate candidate Glenn Cooper (Glen Lawrence) and his hot, angry wife Cassie (Leah Sessa) simply continue their ongoing argument over whether he is having an affair, as Cassie suspects.
Spilling the specifics of the Rumors plot – most work, some don’t – wouldn’t be fair to audiences who deserve to discover them in the moment. But director Dan Kelley and his large cast (which also includes Christopher DePaola and John Michael Gordon as inquisitive cops) deliver a solid, well-acted farce.
Simon writes certain farce-friendly setups into the script: Ken is deafened by a second gunshot, so he shouts all his lines and comically misinterprets what the others are saying, for instance, and when Cookie thinks she has dropped her grandma’s antique earrings onto the floor, everyone crawls around looking for them. Yet Kelley and company generally don’t push the play to the frenetic, near-insane extremes that sink too many farces, and their Rumors is the richer for it.
The actors all deliver their characters with persuasive style, but three give standout performances. Lawrence’s Glenn is droll and manipulative, deadpan in the face of Cassie’s mounting rage. Fridh lands Claire’s her acid-tinged lines with deadly accuracy. And Korinko gets and makes the most of the play’s tour de force speech, Lenny’s lengthy account of the evening’s activities, a fake story that he seems to be making up as he goes along. That’s terrific acting.