RUMORS A Murderous Farce
By Neil Simon
Allen Community Theatre
Directed by Janette Oswald
Ken Gorma Kenneth Fulenwider
Chris Gorman Gena Graham
Lenny Ganz Brian Hoffman
Claire Ganz Heather Shin
Ernie Cusack Eddy Herring
Cookie Cusack Kelly Moore Clarkson
Glenn Cooper Eric Levy
Cassie Cooper Laura Jennings
Officer Welch Bethany Brown
Officer Pudney Aidan Fenton
Stage Manager Kristina Rosette
Sound/Light Operator Maddy Maslow
Props Kristina Rosette
Set Design Dale Moon
Set Builder Kyle Chinn
Reviewed Performance: 11/20/2021
Reviewed by Mildred Austin, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Neil Simon was one of the most revered playwrights, mostly for his comedies which featured stories populated by everyday people. At one time he had four of his plays running at the same time on Broadway, a testament to his popularity. Growing up in the poverty of the Depression, Simon wrote comedy out of a solid belief in the goodness of everyday people.
RUMORS was Simon’s first true farce, written much as in Moliere’s plays, portraying “exaggerated characters in improbable situations where they face a number of outrageous obstacles.”(A History of Farce, Appalachian State University) Though it was Simon’s first foray into that genre, he proved, as usual, a master at it.
All of the characters in Rumors are exaggerated, some certainly more than others. The situation they find themselves in, an anniversary party, should have been normal enough, but from the beginning, it unravels into an improbable situation, and all at one time or another face outrageous obstacles as they work through to a resolution.
The set is appropriately upper-middle class upstate New York. I know theatres are lucky to have the funds to actually raise an appropriate set after eighteen months or more being completely dark with no funds coming in due to the pandemic. That being said, I’m not going to criticize too much, but everything is so plain! Recruiting an art teacher from a local public school might be a way to add some depth and pizzazz to the set, for just the price of two free tickets to the show!
Farce is outrageous plots twists, quick-fire line delivery, stock characters (confused husband, flirtatious wife, etc.) and a plot which is based on the characters . In this ACT production, all the essentials are there and the Saturday night audience, though a bit sparse, made up for that in their gusto and enjoyment of the show. The audience never sees the owners of the home and celebrants and hosts of the party, Charlie, and Myra Brock. We are told Charlie is upstairs with an injury and no one knows where Myra is, though there are rumors and speculation afoot that all is not right with the Brocks’ marriage. The show begins with only two characters appearing, a couple who are longtime friends and guests of the party, Kenneth Fulenwider is terrific as Ken Gorman, who struggles mightily to keep the train on track. Fulenwider has a putty face, perfect for farce and this role.
Gena Graham is his wife, Chris Gorman, who is Ms. Sarcastic. She plays that quite well, though at the beginning, she dropped the ends of some of her lines, but she quickly made up for lost time and I had no trouble understanding her completely after the first 10 minutes.
Lenny and Claire Ganz appear next, played by Brian Hoffman and Heather Shinn. Quickly drawn into the farce, Brian’s monologue in the second act brought immediate applause as it should have. A pitfall of farce is the tendency for the actors, though playing stock characters, to make those characters so lacking in depth they never seem real and the words from the script just that--words. When Hoffman is making up his story, I truly forgot those were lines from the script. He seemed to be making the story up as he went along. That is the challenging task of any actor and Hoffman was up to the task! Heather Shinn, as are many of the females in a farce, was the beautiful; wife with an edge and her drunk scene with Gena Graham was priceless.
Still, Simon filled the stage with two more couples: Eddy Herring as Ernie Cusack, a psychologist and his aptly named eccentric wife, Cookie (think Kooky). Although I have to suppose the latter character dress called for that pick satin thing, instead of looking like a Polish costume, she looked rather like Maude in a pink satin cleric gown with headpiece. She is described as eccentric. I think costumer could have dressed Ms. Clarkson is something more fitting to the eccentric clothing description. If Simon himself described a Polish gown, well, no one said he hit 100% all the time. Ms. Clarkson, however, was not weighed down by a less than fitting costume choice. Her cries of excruciating back pain made me flinch! Her husband, played by Eddy Herring, had moments when his character came alive and had some truly comedic moments. However, his performance was also uneven as he sometimes veered into overacting, a downfall when playing in a farce.
The final couple to make an appearance are Glenn and Cassie Cooper, played respectively by Eric Levy and Laura Jennings. Levy is appropriately straightlaced--the politician stock character and Ms. Jennings plays the floozie stock character with equal aplomb.
The two police who come in late in Act II are convincingly played by Bethany Brown and Aidan Fenton. I watch Mr. Fenton closely, as he was tasked with the difficult job of being on stage with little dialog for extended periods. I loved his takes on the action happening around him. He, for perhaps the only one, seems to see this farcical action for what it is and it amuses him.
Rumors is fun and funny. It is challenging for a group of Community Theatre players. For the major part, the ACT Company is on top of the game. One area I would caution involves finding a rhythm in the fun and zingy lines. The actors begin at a high energy level and that energy never varies, though there are plenty of opportunities to drop down a notch, then switch back into high gear. But the actors tend to just maintain that same elevated level throughout the play with no variance. The ensemble does a better job at pacing, never letting those dreaded “mac trucks” spaces intrude between lines.
All in all, this is a lively and amusing evening at the theatre. Take a play filled with comedy and one line “zingers”, ten competent, dedicated actors and an audience appreciative of the hours of work that go into making that fun evening.
Allen’s Community Theatre
1210 East Main Street, #300
Allen, TX 75002
Thru December 11, 2021
Friday, Saturday 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, 3 p.m.
Seniors (65+) $19