Review: ‘Rumors’ by the King William Players

The King William Players’ production of Rumors delivers constant laughs. Neil Simon’s 1988 farce comes to roaring life in this production, directed by Sarah Irving and performed and produced by the King William Players, St. John’s College’s student-run theater troupe. The show is a fitting tribute to Simon, who died last August.

Cast of ‘Rumors.’ Photo by Sarah Irving.

Acacia Burnham and Bao Lee get the comedy going as Chris and Ken Gorman, the first guests to arrive at the party and realize things are comically askew. Their interaction during a phone call is hilarious, as Burnham answers the phone while Lee tries to direct her in what to say. The comic tension rises as they try to keep the later guests from figuring out anything is wrong.

At one point, Burnham nearly confesses to another guest before Lee bursts back in, calmly interrupting her. Lee shines when he is temporarily deaf, shouting and mishearing the other guests’ remarks. In one comic moment, he reveals everything, only to find they’ve already been told. Burnham just barely handles the pressure, desperately craving a smoke. She races into the powder room with another guest, coming back out later with a bottle.

Allegra D. Hall and Samuel Berrettini continue the laughter as Claire and Lenny Ganz, the next couple to arrive. Hall delivers the one-liners with excellent comic timing, throwing them off as she discusses the rumors about their hosts. Berrettini is wonderful with physical comedy, cradling his neck from a car accident and wincing in pain. He takes center stage at the end, racing around the set acting out an explanation of events while narrating them, bringing in the other actors as needed to assist. That scene earns him much well-deserved applause at the end.

Christian Gordon and Sierra Engdahl add to the manic confusion as Ernie and Cookie Cusack. Engdahl is a hoot as Cookie, melodramatically screaming in pain or excitement. She squeals in pleasure while picking up a gift, then drops it. Her back spasms leave her writhing on the sofa, as Gordon tries comically to pull her off. She comically crawls to the kitchen seeking relief, then another time in the main room to look for her earrings, getting the other guests to join her on the floor. Gordon is much more subdued, trying to maintain calm in the chaos, but even he snaps a few times.

Kenneth Xing and Alysiana Carter complete the guest list as Glenn and Cassie Cooper. Carter radiates anger, snapping at Xing as soon as they are alone, pushing him away as he tries to reassure her. She sulks in a chair when the rest of the party emerges. Later, she seductively wraps her arms around Berrettini’s neck, to his consternation. Her interest in crystals leads to much mockery from the others. Xing reacts with sarcasm and cynicism to Carter’s behavior, capturing a couple facing relationship trouble. When the police show up, Xing hides his face and is evasive, blurting out the wrong word to many laughs, just as things seem to calm down.

Cast of ‘Rumors.’ Photo by Sarah Irving.

Cole Caudle gives Officer Welch the air of authority, looking intimidating as he walks around asking questions to the guests. Finally, he demands answers, taking center stage as he threatens to find out what is going on. His reaction to Berrettini’s performance is hilarious. Gabriela Sanchez provides crucial information as Officer Pudney, while also holding on to Arcadia, the campus dog. It is a tribute to the other actors that while Arcadia gets applause from her entrance, she does not steal the show.

The set, designed by Director Sarah Irving, is fairly elaborate, a two-floor tastefully decorated home with multiple doors, almost all of which are used. In the middle of the first floor is a liquor cabinet with wine glasses, next to a bookcase with a record player on top. To the right is a white sofa with a glass table. Beyond the sofa are French doors leading to the kitchen. To the left are two red modern swiveling chairs, with a glass table and landline phone in between. Past the chairs is a door to the powder room. A staircase in the middle leads to the second floor with a balcony and doors to the bedroom and bathroom.

The costumes, also designed by Sarah Irving, while simple, help to distinguish the many characters. Nearly all the men wear tuxes, with Ken wearing a white bow tie. Lenny dons a maroon smoking jacket. Chris wears a short white dress and black stockings, while Claire wears a long black dress, and Cassie has a long red sparkly dress. Cookie has a green and white dress with a green and white jacket. Officers Welch and Pudney have on police uniforms.

Technical Director Sadie Funk as lighting and sound designer helps reflect the characters’ chaotic situations on stage. During Lenny’s impersonation of the host, the lights turn down low, highlighting his dramatic speech; they turn back up after he finishes. They use sounds for great effect, such as the doorbell and phone ringing, cars pulling into the driveway, a gunshot, and an unexpected voice.

Sarah Irving does a wonderful job as Director. The actors work well together, using every part of the stage, including the balcony, and perfectly managing the many entrances and exits. They keep the frantic pace up throughout the play, hitting the comic parts expertly. The final image with them on the stairs, reacting to one final surprise, leaves the audience with one last big laugh. Their performances are even more remarkable considering St. John’s College does not have a theater department.

Although the show ended on April 20, 2019, you can find information on future King William Players productions by visiting their website.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Rumors played until April 20, 2019, in the Francis Scott Key Auditorium at St. John’s College, 60 College Avenue, Annapolis, MD. Admission for all performances is free. For information, go online