Neil Simon’s Rumors rumbles with all the kinetic energy of a whodunit but happily ignores the bullet points from the genre’s rulebook. This isn’t a play where the shock and awe come from the dramatic reveal of a criminal’s identity, but rather from the absurdity inherent in trying to conceal a criminal.
The play begins at the house of the Deputy Mayor of New York, who is throwing an anniversary party with his wife. We see another married couple, Ken and Chris Gorman (Mike Crosby and Stacy DiPasquale respectively), in a state of panic. The Deputy Mayor is in a bedroom passed out and bleeding from a gunshot wound to the ear. His wife is nowhere to be found. Although the Gormans are alarmed for their friend’s safety, concerns turn immediately to his political image. Ken is the Deputy Mayor’s lawyer, and his career is likewise in jeopardy if something disturbing has happened.
Suddenly, additional party guests arrive, one couple after another. The Gorman’s have a mission: restore the Deputy Mayor’s health, find out what’s going on, and ensure no one at the party ever learns what happened. You won’t be surprised to hear this is impossible. The second couple to arrive, Lenny and Claire Ganz (Dan Krack and Alexandra Swartz), uncover the ruse almost immediately but share the Gormans’ concerns and agree to help conceal the truth. Which is when the third couple arrives.
Apple Hill Playhouse’s latest is a series of complex comedic errors, with each newly produced falsehood giving way to more and more absurd untruths. Although Rumors is a play that deals primarily in speedy, crackling dialogue, director Stephen Toth takes an equal interest in its physicality. Actors desperately spin new characters, plots, and motivations into their hastily assembled lies like Looney Tunes characters plugging the holes of a sinking ship with their fingers. To watch Rumors is to watch one neurotic upper class egotist after another reach their mental boiling point. There is, of course, some mean spirited pleasure to be had in that.
On the whole, the production is a breezy experience. Although the Gormans’ narratives are knotty, Rumors itself never strays from its goal: watching its cast crack under pressure. We become interested in the group dynamics quickly, and it’s fun to discover what happens when some characters are absent. What will Lenny, who is sarcastic and aggressive, do to keep Cookie (Stacy DiPasquale), a cooking show host who is literally unable to take life in stride, off his tracks? How will Claire and Chris, who resent being dragged into all this, handle a sudden knock at the door?
There is one real mark against the show, and it happens once all of the characters begin participating in the same scene. Smaller moments of conversation reveal a smooth, if manic, chemistry amongst the cast. Larger moments, in which every character appears to be reacting as much as possible regardless of their cohorts’ levels of energy, almost as if in a vacuum, make the cast resemble an unfinished connect-the-dots puzzle. For a show that’s built around a series of outbursts and raucous surprises, this rigid adherence to hitting the exact beat by beat nature of the script instead of allowing the characters to dynamically react to one another detracts from the production.
Still, there are some great instance of nuanced comedy in this. Dan Krack and Alexandra Swartz’s portrayals of the Ganz’s, the most self-aware characters in the play, are particularly hard to resist. A monologue performed by Krack that occurs late in the play is so pitch perfect in its delirious energy that I could actually feel the crowd’s captivation with him.
Apple Hill’s latest is a fun night at the theater. For those of us feeling stressed out each day as the headlines fly past, Rumors’ honest dishonesty is a welcome distraction.
Rumors runs that the Apple Hill Playhouse through August 5. For tickets and more information, click here.