Review: ‘Rumors’ at Bristol Riverside Theatre in Bristol, PA

There’s nothing like a door-slammer farce for pure escapist fun and Bristol Riverside Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s Rumors provides just that. When the show premiered in 1988, the playwright revealed that he was going through a rough time in his life (the death of his son-in-law and the end of his marriage), so he wrote it to cheer himself up. Since then, the uproarious farce—Simon’s first–has brightened not only his own spirits, but those of countless theatergoers, including the enthusiastic opening-night audience in Bristol.

Leonard C. Haas, Eleanor Handley, Valerie Leonard, Bruce Graham, and Jo Twiss. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Leonard C. Haas, Eleanor Handley, Valerie Leonard, Bruce Graham, and Jo Twiss. Photo by Mark Garvin.

When friends begin to arrive at the Brocks’ chic suburban townhouse in the Palisades to celebrate the couple’s tenth anniversary, they soon realize that all is not right. Myra is nowhere to be found, the cook and butler are gone, food for the black-tie dinner party sits unprepared in the kitchen, and Charley, the Deputy Mayor of New York, has shot himself—which would explain the gunshot Ken and Chris Gorman heard coming from inside the house before they entered. Though Charley has survived with just a bloody flesh-wound to his left earlobe, he is passed out in the upstairs bedroom and unable to tell Ken what happened. So to avoid a scandal and to save their reputations, the Gormans fabricate a convoluted cover-up to share with the other guests. What ensues is two hours of hilarity that grows with the characters’ mounting hysteria, as rumors fly, the police arrive, and their subterfuge becomes ever more elaborate and ludicrous!

Director Keith Baker and his rollicking cast of ten build the comical frenzy to a rapid-fire crescendo, maintaining the split-second timing and the precise blocking that a door-slammer requires, and keeping the audience guessing about the enigma of what transpired, while laughing out loud at the tale’s full-out absurdity. Each member of the ensemble succeeds in delivering the production’s madcap humor, skillfully exposing the upper-crust characters’ emotional desperation, physical afflictions, and far-fetched coincidences (of their names and social interconnections).

Ken (Danny Vaccaro), temporarily deafened by a second accidental gunshot, misunderstands what everyone is saying and speaks at the top of his lungs, as his pretentious wife Chris (Valerie Leonard) shows the escalating effects of the copious amounts of alcohol she consumes throughout the party. Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Sean Thompson and Jessica Wagner) fight over real or imagined marital infidelities in front of their friends, resulting in her payback flirtations with the other men and his profusely bleeding and battered nose. Cookie and Ernie Cusack (Jo Twiss and Bruce Graham) suffer respectively from shooting back pains and sensitive burns to his fingertips from helping his wife, a TV chef, prepare the food left in the kitchen. And Lenny and Claire Ganz (Leonard C. Haas and Eleanor Handley), victims of a hit-and-run car accident en route to the Brocks’, lament the damage to their new luxury car, the impact that left him with painful whiplash, and the inappropriate outfit Cookie wears to the festivities.

Sound ridiculous? It is! And Simon’s preposterous parody of both the country-club set and the mystery genre culminates in the most ridiculous scene of Lenny’s over-the-top spontaneous explanation of the day’s events (performed with unbridled fervor by the outstanding Haas) to Officers Welch and Pudney (Paul Weagraff and Joslynn Cortes), who’ve been sent to the scene to investigate. But it’s not till after their departure that the puzzle is solved and the garrulous guests are left speechless.

Sean Thompson, Joslynn Cortes, Paul Weagraff, and Leonard C. Haas. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Sean Thompson, Joslynn Cortes, Paul Weagraff, and Leonard C. Haas. Photo by Mark Garvin.

Lighting by John Hoey and sound by Joshua Friedman contribute well to the show’s mock mood of heightened agitation. Linda Bee Stockton’s formal-wear costumes and Jason Simms’s well-appointed set evoke the taste of the late 1980s, as do some dated references to a car-phone, a home landline and intercom system, and the then-popular craze of healing crystals, all of which elicit additional chuckles from the audience.

Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

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Rumors plays through Sunday, April 17, 2016, at Bristol Riverside Theatre – 120 Radcliffe Street, in Bristol, PA. For tickets call the box office at (215) 785-0100, or purchase them online.

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