Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of Neil Simon’s RUMORS at The Ridgefield Theater Barn
Through March 25th
I heard a rumour / Oh, oh, yes I did, boy / I heard a rumour, oh… — Bananarama, “I Heard a Rumour”
(Inexplicably, the above earworm has been in my head since seeing Rumors, A Comic Farce, by Neil Simon at The Ridgefield Theater Barn.)
Is there anything that tops a really good belly laugh? You know, one of those body-racking types that revives your spirit and warms your soul; the kind that spills tears down your cheeks and might even end with a hearty, albeit accidental snort (which I’ve been known to do from time to time and about which my husband loves to tease me). Now to amp up the guffaw-factor ten-fold, and I’ll ask is there anything better than seeing a fantastic farce written by the inimitable Neil Simon and doing so cabaret-style, with your favorite take-out and bottle of wine, at the warm and cozy Ridgefield Theater Barn on a blustery March night? The answer? A simple, straightforward “No!” and that is because those are the true makings for a rollicking, rib-tickling night of pure unadulterated fun.
Among his countless works, Simon’s only-ever farce, Rumors, which premiered in 1988, is, in true farce form, an uproarious, nonsensical, door-slamming delight rife with mistaken identity, cover-ups, perilous and even sexual situations, much of it pulled right from the upper-crust Rockland County, New York gossip mill. When a well-dressed troupe of friends convene to celebrate the anniversary of New York Deputy Mayor Charlie Brock and his wife Myra, no one knows up from down but they’re trying damn hard to craft it as they go along. First to arrive are high-strung lawyer Ken Gorman (Daniel Mulvihill) and his higher strung wife, Chris (Leigh Katz) – but they realize right away something’s more than amiss. Food hasn’t been prepared, household staff are off for the evening, Myra is MIA, and an unconscious Charlie has put a bullet through his ear lobe. As they’re attempting to hold it all together, more guests come traipsing through the door and into the living room. Next on the scene are Lenny (Duane Lanham) and Claire Ganz (Jody Bayer) who’ve just had a fender bender in their brand-new BMW. Larry’s got whiplash which pairs nicely with his whip-smart snark; his wife is the queen bee of gossip mongers just looking for more fuel to add to her scandalously blathering fire. Soon kooky Cookie Cusak (Deborah Burke), a histrionic TV chef with a bad back, and her psychologist husband Ernie (Rick Haylon) show up. They try to pull together a meal from all of the raw fixings laid out in the kitchen then are obliged to entertain the last of the arrivals, feuding duo Glenn Cooper (Matthieu Regney), a staid politico, and his shrewish, quartz crystal-loving wife Cassie (Kristin Gagliardi) who mistake Cookie and Ernie for the hired help.
While we never get to meet Charlie or Myra, their presence is more than felt as this colorful cast of characters race up and down stairs, go in and out of doors, and spin a wacky web of stories around the (un)happy couple’s decade of (in)fidelity. To add insult to injury, there’s even more trouble when Officers Welch and Pudney (played by Timothy Huebenthal and Chhanda Som, respectively) show up to investigate Lenny’s car accident but quickly learn more than they might need to know about the other events of the evening.
The acting, directing, and staging are spot-on in this delightful adult confection. The entire cast function like a well-oiled machine, employing countless physical moments for maximum hits on the laugh meter – special mentions to Duane Lanham and Deborah Burke for their work on that front, especially Lanham’s virtual acrobatics on the stairs. Director Scott R. Brill, who also designed a fabulous set with Timothy Huebenthal (I remarked I’d like to live in the Sneden’s Landing home) did a masterful job. Kudos to Mark Hankla for lighting design, Philip Hahn for sound design, Deborah Burke for costuming, Camey Brown for hair/makeup. A big hand also to the rest of the production team.
A rumor is defined as “a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.” But there is nothing uncertain or doubtful here – The Ridgefield Theater Barn produces incredible theatre in our own backyard – and Neil Simon’s Rumors is a positively guaranteed hit!
Everyone thinks they can write a play; you just write down what happened to you. But the art of it is drawing from all the moments of your life. — Neil Simon
Being a young culture vulture in the 70s and 80s, Neil Simon was undoubtedly the “King of All Media” (apologies to Howard Stern who claimed that title for himself). Everywhere you looked there was a vehicle by Neil Simon; whether it was a film like The Goodbye Girl, a TV show like The Odd Couple or a stage play like Brighton Beach Memoirs. In fact, I had seen most of his works in some media version or another – even his early work like the 1963 film version of his first play Come Blow Your Horn with Frank Sinatra and Tony Bill. I felt his work on a personal level; for a kid from Yonkers, his recurring references to the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Yonkers were familiar and relatable.
One anomalous work of Simon’s that I did not see, however, was his 1988 play Rumors. It was not on my bucket list. Maybe my reticence was because it was a farce and until very recently, farces were not an acquired taste of mine. I am happy to say that after seeing The Ridgefield Theater Barn’s production of it, not only have I put it on my bucket list, but immediately was able to take it off as well. In a word, the play was wonderful.
It was side-splittingly, laugh-out-loud hysterical. Of course, it had all of the farcical elements like mistaken identities, slamming doors, prat falls, etc. But it also had Simon’s ubiquitous satirical wit running throughout the play. On the surface, it is about the Deputy Mayor of New York shooting himself in his ear (was it a suicide attempt?) on his tenth wedding anniversary. His wife is missing and his upper-class guests are left to speculate about what really happened. On a deeper level, it is about the destructive nature of idle gossip and rumors as well as the lengths people with public personas will go to protect their reputations.
The pacing, timing and staging are all perfect. And why shouldn’t they be? Veteran director Scott R. Brill (who did double duty as the set designer) has extensive experience directing farces and comedies including Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park and two previous productions of Rumors. He also put together and elicited great performances from an incredibly talented cast.
And speaking of the cast, Duane Lanham (whom Pillow Talking loved in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) gave another knock-down-drag-out hilarious performance as Lenny Ganz, a friend of the Deputy Mayor. Duane has more energy than the Energizer Bunny and puts it to good use in a very physical performance. The rest of this strong cast should be arrested for murder as they all killed their parts: Leigh Katz as Chris Gorman; Daniel Mulvihill as Ken Gorman; Jody Bayer as Chris Ganz; Deborah Burke as Cookie Cusack; Rick Haylon as Ernie Cusack; Kristin Gagliardi as Cassie Cooper; Matthieu Regney as Glenn Cooper; Timothy Huebenthal as Officer Welch; and, last but not least, Chhanda Som as Officer Pudney (her expressions were priceless).
As I’ve come to learn, successful farces depend on highly energetic, talented actors whose comedic timing must be completely synchronous. The Rumors cast not only meets this requirement, but exceeds it. Indeed, The Ridgefield Theater Barn has cooked up a perfect brew with just the right ingredients: a Neil Simon play, an experienced director, and a great cast. Rumor has it that Rumors is a must see!