The Heritage Players’ uproarious production of the farce Rumors is written by Neil Simon. Yes, the word farce and Neil Simon usually don’t go together, but if you are old enough you will remember that one of America’s most prolific playwrights (of the comedy of human experiences and personalities) once wrote skits for Your Show of Shows for Sid Caesar with the likes of Woody Allen, Carl Reiner, Howie Morris, and, of course, Mel Brooks.
In Wikipedia, Simon himself stated, “This is completely different for me…It’s unlike anything I’ve ever written. It’s my first farce.”In describing the play itself, the playwright explained, “The play started with the idea of doing a farce…The next thing was to do it as an elegant farce, because the farces in Moliere’s days were generally about wealthy people. These aren’t extremely wealthy people, but they are well-to-do. So I decided to dress them in evening clothes. There was something about having them dressed in evening clothes that I thought was a nice counterpoint to the chaos that was happening in the play. And so I picked a reason for them to be dressed elegantly, and it was a 10th anniversary.”
The play opens with a possible suicide (or is it) and the arrival of four couples, one at a time, to the anniversary party. Similar to many present day British comedies, mayhem ensues with lies upon lies first to each other and then to the police, mistaken identities, pratfalls, and temporarily disabling inflictions. Simon may be remembered more for his slice of life comedies, but this one is as good as his overseas counterparts.
The actors are up to the parts. Ashley Gerhardt opens the play as Chris Gorman. She captures the audience with her frantic energy and often provides the insights into the mayhem with witty and sometimes inebriated remarks. Her curly long blond hair seems to get wilder as the night goes on as do her emotions. Her husband, Ken, is played perfectly by Matt Scheer. At one point Mr. Scheer has to capture Ken’s temporary deafness. He does this very believably.
The next couple to arrive is Claire and Lenny Ganz portrayed deftly by Andrea Bush and Stephen M. Deininger. Ms. Bush is very funny as the gossipy Claire and Mr. Deininger is a standout in the scene when he has to contrive a believable alternate series of events for the police.
Enter now into the already unraveling situation are Cookie and Ernie Cusak. Cookie is a, of all things, a television chef, and is broadly played by Kathy Wenerick-Bell. Lenny Taube plays her adoring and often cloying husband, and he captures the character’s predicament of being a psychiatrist with all this insanity around him. Ms. Bell is at her peak when she is, ironically, crawling on the floor. I found myself laughing heartily when Ernie tries to open the door after burning his hands in the kitchen.
The whole cast excels at the difficult task of having people laugh at other’s handicaps even if they are temporary. We are so trained not to do that. Of course, Mr. Simon is partly responsible through his witty dialogue.
The last invitees are unexpected. Glenn Cooper is running for State Senator. He is accompanied by his wife, Cassie. Louis Miles and Amanda Polanowski are they are the couple in crisis. Cassie thinks Glenn is cheating. The actors capture the beautiful new age mystic, Cassie, as well as the self-assured Glenn as they spiral out of control.
Finally, the police enter to try to sort out all this mess. I enjoyed Kevin Kelehan’s Officer Welch. His laid-back New York cop was sharp and not stupid. Heidi Vause’s Officer Pudney is very proficient at answering her walkie talkie spewing out inaudible directions.
Rumors is directed by Damien Gibbons. A farce like Rumors requires more choreography than other comedy, and he does this without flaw. Gibbons keeps the actors moving around, often breathlessly, as well as keeping the dialogue fast-paced, which is not an easy chore. Gibbons also designed this many doored, multi-leveled set, which worked beautifully for this production. There was, however, one distracting stage light which reflected into a set mirror and glared at me the whole show.
The Heritage Players have been around since 1975 and moved to the grounds of Spring Grove in 2009. Artistic Director Katie Sheldon notes that since then the group has had a resurgence. The profits from this show will go to benefit The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and The Spring Grove Patient Fund.
The Heritage Players’ Rumors is a wonderful way to shake off the winter doldrums and welcome the madness of spring. Rumor has it that you will have a great time, so don’t miss it!
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.
Rumors plays through March 29, 2015 at The Heritage Players performing at the Rice Auditorium – at Spring Grove Hospital Center- 55 Wade Avenue, Catonsville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 575-6645, or purchase them online, or at the door.