RUMORS, written by the prolific comedy writer Neil Simon, is the latest offering from Desert Theatreworks, located in the Indio Performing Arts Center in Indio, CA.
The play is a classic farce in structure and the only farce Mr. Simon ever wrote for the stage, complete with the requisite door slams, coordinated entrances and exits and a situation that continues to grow in complexity and confusion no matter how anyone tries to help.
It is the 10th wedding anniversary of the city’s deputy mayor, Charley Brock, and his wife Myra (both of whom are never seen onstage). To celebrate the occasion they have invited 4 couples to their home (a wonderful set complete with multiple doors for slamming designed by Tessa Walker and beautifully lit by Phil Murphy). All the guests are obviously rich and well connected. First to arrive on the scene are Charley’s lawyer Ken Gorman (Ron Young) and his wife, Chris (Adriana Reyes). As they approached the house they heard gunshots and inside found no staff, uncooked food on the kitchen counter, Myra gone and Charley with a bleeding ear after a failed suicide attempt. Trying to protect his client’s reputation he instructs his wife to tell the doctor that Charley fell down the steps and banged his head but he is ok. They agree to not tell the others anything is wrong. Next to arrive are Lenny Ganz (Jerry Prager), Charley’s accountant and his wife Claire (Kari Kirkland). As the lies start to pile up causing some confusion, another couple arrives, Ernie Cusack (Arnie Kleban), Charley’s therapist, and his wife, the aptly named Cookie (Jannae Kleban) who has her own TV cooking show. As contradictions in the story appear so do new lies to cover it up. Just as some sense of calm seems to be attained, the last invited couple arrive at the house. They are Glenn Cooper (Mason McIntosh), running for State Senate and his wife Cassie (Alana Mittleman) who is intensely angry at her husband because she suspects he is cheating on her, The entire evening dissolves into utter chaos with false gossip and rumors, kitchen accidents and more gunfire making the dinner guests look like survivors from the Battle of Gettysburg. Just as things couldn’t get any worse, they do, with the arrival of two policemen, Officer Welch (David Brendel) and Officer Pudney (Laura Ortega). Although they are there for a different reason, everyone thinks they’re there because of the gun shots which necessitates one final mega-story by Lenny to try and make the policemen believe that all is well and get everyone off the hook. (spoiler alert – it works).
Farce is a very tricky form of theatre comedy. It has to be played in dead earnestness with a conviction of belief so that we in the audience can laugh at their very seriousness in the midst of all the absurdity. If an actor indicates anything except ‘this is all very serious and important’ the comedy gets deflated. Add to that the importance for consistency in farce. By that I mean a character’s behaviors must be consistent and in line with who they are. This is a way an actor gets an audience to believe in them and therefore care. It helps prime the audience for laughing because once we have a handle on a character we can anticipate how he or she will react in advance with laughter in a farce as the reward for doing so. By and large, the entire cast was really working hard, towards those aforementioned goals, though occasionally a bit too hard. So having said all of that, I thought Kari Kirkland deserved kudos for her performance. From the minute she walks onstage we have an idea of who she is and that is supported all evening long with a consistently funny performance that stays rooted in reality and believability no matter how absurd her comments or the situation gets. Her performance and delivery was met with a steady stream of laughter from the audience. Whether reacting to or passing on rumors herself, or, reacting to her fellow dinner guests, each zinger got a well-earned laugh.
Another thing about farce concerns the pacing and the slow build-up needed to build up to the ultimate explosion before all is, at least for the moment, made right in the world. Partly due to the script but also partly due to directorial choices, the play began at such a high feverish pitch that it had nowhere really to go. By jumping in at the deep end of the pool, so to speak, we are not allowed to see the slowly mounting panic in each of the characters for their own various reasons. I feel that some laughs were lost or could have been bigger had things not started at the full panic level.
Neil Simon wrote over 30 plays for the stage, yet this is his only farce. It is not among the best of his work. It never dips below the surface to give any insights into the behaviors of the privileged and the ending comes on very quickly and a bit too neatly. But even a less-than-perfect play by Neil Simon is better than many other evenings spent in the theatre. There are still plenty of laughs and fun to be had, as the entire audience loudly confirmed on opening night.
RUMORS runs through March 1, 2020. For tickets or more information call the box office at 760-980-1455 or go to http://www.dtworks.org/
Photos by Paul Hyashi