This is a guest post from Megan Crivello
You have to admire a play that starts out with a gunshot. After you learn that the gunshot happens at the start of a 10th wedding anniversary party to be populated by the happy couples’ closest friends, you have to wonder what on earth is going on. This how the Westminster Players’ production of Rumors by Neil Simon, a frantic farce-like comedy set in the late 1980’s, begins. Charlie Brock is the Deputy Mayor of New York and it’s his party –only his wife is missing, the ‘help’ has mysteriously disappeared before the food has been cooked, and the perpetually unseen Charlie has shot himself through the earlobe. The set, designed by Westminster faculty member Nina Vought, projects wealth with a grand curving staircase, a crystal chandelier, and the appropriate number of doors to be continuously slammed.
The first to slam said doors are Ken and Chris Gorman, the only guests to apparently arrive on time. Michael Calacino’s Ken is frantic yet endearing in his determination to prevent an attempted suicide scandal-no matter what the cover story may be. Anne Louise Brings as Chris nervously flits from lie to lie, trying to keep up (and landing winning bits as she does). As other couples arrive, the lie gets bigger and is fueled by other bits of gossip, rumor, and misunderstanding. Claire Ganz (Allison Lente) seems to enjoy spreading and gaining information the most, much to the dismay of her accountant husband, Lenny (Nikola Muckajev), who takes turns dealing with whiplash from a pre-party car accident and shock at what is being said about his friends. Lente is unflappable in her quest for new information and delights in her husband’s naiveté. Muckajev ably mixes babe-in-the-woods wide-eyed wonderment with a grown man’s colorful vocabulary. Next up are the ‘odd couple’ of the bunch: cooking show host Cookie and analyst Ernie Cusack (Kelley Davis and Niklaas Duncan, respectively), who bandy about personal endearments much to the disgust of the other guests. Davis is fascinating to watch as she deals with Cookie’s continuous back spasms while Duncan is respectable as a vaguely Freudian stereotype-complete with unspecified Eastern-European accent-attempting to figure everyone out. I’m not sure if the accent is in the script, but it is an interesting choice and Duncan pulls it off fairly well without pulling too much focus. The last guests are a young, blond, and tanned for the camera politician named Glenn Cooper (Wyatt McNeil) and his volatile wife, Cassie (Hailey Henderson). McNeil looks straight out of the 1980’s and smiles that smile that is meant to appeal to all his constituents. Henderson is likably changeable, rapidly cycling from cold to ditzy to needy to vampy.
The cast is quick and clean with dialogue delivery, maintaining the pace needed for the verbal comedy. The physical comedy is skillfully done, each actor contributing ably. As the first act closes in utter pandemonium, the energy is high and the audience seemed almost reluctant to have intermission. Act two starts less actively, slowly chipping away at resolution. The sluggish pace is not the fault of the actors, who do their best to drive the energy up but rather the script, which loses direction and gets bogged down with keeping up jokes rather than revealing new information. After another (accidental) gunshot and various injuries, two police officers show up to help with the denouement. Joseph Paul Branca as Officer Welch and Shianne Gray as Officer Pudney are both solid, if underused (again, the script and not the production). After some interrogation and a couple of false exits, Officer Welch finally elicits the ‘true’ story. This tall-tale is elaborate and engaging and, as delivered by Muckajev’s Len disguised as Charlie, is spectacular to behold. Director Jared Larkin has assembled an appealing cast with great chemistry and good physical comedy chops that make the slightly long running time of two hours twenty minutes worth it.
The design team are no slouches either. In addition to the effective set, Vought also designed the costumes. True to the unkind height of 80’s fashion, the clothes cleverly establish the time and class of the characters, though I felt the hairstyles meant to be representative of the era were pushing the extreme a little hard. Spencer Brown’s lighting is soft and appears to be filtered like that of a film and the sound design by Carolina Silva and Natalie Colony is precise. The script contains language that qualifies it as at least a PG-13 outing, but the cast does an excellent job of folding it in naturally. There were a couple of things that turned me off: a pre-show announcement of “Rumors as directed by Jared Larkin” suggested a bold re-imagining that was neither produced or needed, and a 80’s dance move curtain call that was slightly wince inducing. These are minor things compared to the general success, but still, they stood out. The overall production is polished and few if any opening night jitters were evident. Most importantly, the audience enjoyed it. You probably will, too.
Rumors plays at the Jay W Lees Courage Theatre at Westminster College March 15 – 24. Go to http://www.ezticketlive.com/checkout/event_view.asp?id=21 to purchase tickets.