Somewhere between The Odd Couple and The Goodbye Girl, playwright Neil Simon wrote the farce, Rumors. Reportedly going through a tough time when he penned it, he turned to his writing to help. The result is a ridiculous, and sometimes creaky, two hours of laughs in the vein of a bedroom farce. Without all the slamming doors.
Hosting their ten year anniversary, Charlie and Myra have invited friends to their home to celebrate. Only problem is Myra is nowhere to be found, and Charlie is in the bedroom with a bullet hole in his ear. As more guests begin to arrive, they all try to keep what has taken place a secret from each other.
Except this is a farce and in only the way a farce can unfold, Charlie and Myra’s problems are piled on by rumors, innuendo, and lots of shouting.
One supposes the shouting, most prevalent in act one, is intended to take the place of the slamming doors. More likely though, it is a cast still trying to find their footing.
Part of Western Gold Theatre’s staged reading series, the cast of Rumors is still on-script. Together only since Tuesday, they perform on Glenn MacDonald’s fully realized living room set, carrying Simon’s words with them.
While at first a distraction, the bound papers held by this capable cast, quickly disappear. In one instance the script even becomes the prop in a joke poking fun at the fact the cast is still learning their lines.
A big part of the success of any farce comes from a cast willing to buy into its ridiculousness. Here, director Anna Hagan has assembled ten willing and winning actors who not only embrace the silliness, but even manage to find a few kernels of truth among the silliness.
Melissa Oei is particularly good here, as her cutting comments manage to resonate. As the long-suffering wife to the blowhard Lenny, there is a clarity to Oei’s performance on-par with her comedic delivery. Not a small feat in a play where character takes a back-seat to the absurd.
As a farce though, nuance is not on the menu at this anniversary party. Under Hagan’s direction the rest of her cast gives into its madness. The result is a freewheeling two plus hours worthy of what the New York Times declared as “uncerebral Simon”.
More concerned about his new BMW than what has happened to his friends, Jerry Wasserman makes the most as Lenny. As with most of the cast in this opening night, he settles into his character in act two, eventually delivering one of the evening’s funniest monologues.
Colleen Winton gets a physical workout as Cookie, and Paul Batten is delightfully bewildering as her psychiatrist husband. Keith Martin Gordey makes the most of Ken, who spends most of his time deafened by a gunshot, and Camille Mitchell is absolutely wonderful as his wife Chris who has a tough time keeping up.
Bob Frazer and Annabel Kershaw have fun as the would-be senator and his wife with marriage problems. And even as Simon inexplicably reconciles the two by the end, they have a great deal of fun getting there.
Rounding out the cast are Dave Campbell and Paige Gibbs as the two police officers who eventually show up at the door. The two are part of one of the funniest scenes, as Gibbs responds to her garbled police radio.
While it definitely lacks the brains of some of his other works, even on-script the cast of this production breathe enough life into Simon’s farce to make this silly romp a perfect summer diversion.
Rumors by Neil Simon. Directed by Anna Hagan. A Western Gold Theatre production. On stage at the PAL Studio Theatre (581 Cardero St, Vancouver) until June 25. Visit http://westerngoldtheatre.org for tickets and information.