by DICK KEREKES
There is lots of laughter in Theatre Jacksonville in the San Marco area of Jacksonville as one of Neil Simon’s funniest plays, “Rumors,” opened On October 19 and runs through November 3.
Farce is a French word meaning “stuff”. It is an extreme form of comedy that depends on quick tempo and flawless timing by the actors. Most farces (the good ones anyway), are loaded with improbable events and farfetched coincidences that keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Theatre Jacksonville’s production meets all the expectations with fine acting, good direction and an excellent set.
The story takes place in a plush New York home. The two story set designed by Jeff Waggoner is one of his best , with multiple doors for opening and closing, all very solidly built to withstand repeated physical abuse from the rambunctious cast.
The plot unfolds as guests arrive to celebrate the tenth wedding anniversary of the Brocks, who are never seen. Four couples arrive, one set at a time. They find their host is not available, the cook and the maid are gone, and there is nothing to eat.
Arriving first are the Gormans, Chris and Ken (Chris Morrissey and Staci Grant) who set a tone of deception for the evening. As they enter, they hear gunshots and find that their host Charlie, a high ranking city official, has indeed been shot and they panic and don’t know what to do about it. Chris is already a nervous wreck as she has just quit smoking and has hilarious withdrawal problems. Ken scampers up and down the stairs attempting to keep order and cover up the situation as other guests arrive. Lenny and Claire Ganz (Michael Ray and Tracy Olin) are the next arrivals. Claire just loves to gossip and her hyperactive husband has his own problems since he smashed up his new BMW with only twelve miles on it on the way to the party.
Ernie and Cookie Cusack (Evan Gould and Rhonda Fisher) are a very wacky couple . He is a psychoanalyst who does group therapy over the phone (and Yes, even while at the party). Cookie is a renowned TV cooking show host with a bad back, so she spends time crawling around the floor moaning and groaning. (She does cook a great meal and saves the party!)
The fourth and final couple, Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Matt Tompkins and Kasi Walters) have their own conundrums. Glenn is a politician, possibly having an affair while he is running for a senate seat. His wife Cassie likes to rub her crystals and other men’s backs.
Two local policemen, Officer Ben Welch (David Giles) and Officer Pudney (Leanne Wilcox) are the final characters. They have questions about the gunshots and the damaged BMW in the yard. Giles is a very professional cop, both in looks and in manner and funny as well. Ms. Wilcox speaks few words but has very menacing eyes that convey a suspicious nature. She is also stage manager of this production.
Director Tom Trauger cast this show well and has these zany characters treating all these madcap situations with a completely serious demeanor until the final monologue by Lenny that ties up everything in a hilarious finish. “Rumors” is a sustained farce and although it is twenty-four years old it bears its age lightly and is one of Neil Simon’s best written and funniest plays. His look at the absurdness of urban society is chock-full of Simon’s famous one liners and remains a popular and relevant play today. Note: There is a smattering of earthy language as things get hot and frantic on stage and the theatre’s website indicates the play is recommended for mature audiences.
Tracy Olin as costume designer coordinated the fancy evening clothing, with an interesting folk style dress for Cookie the cook. Performances are at Theatre Jacksonville, 2032 San Marco Boulevard, Jacksonville. Call 396-4425 for information and reservations.
There is a rumor going around that Theatre Jacksonville’s “Rumors” is as funny as when the original debuted in 1989. It certainly had the enthusiastic audience in stitches during most of the second act. Director Trauger’s pacing and blocking were right on the mark, as was the incredible timing of the lines by the delightful cast. Don’t miss this show; it is a great way for TJ to open their 93rd season.
by DICK KEREKES