Neil Simon's 1998 spastic farce Rumors is a favorite choice for community theater companies, which is interesting considering the production is enormously difficult to stage well.
The Broken Arrow Community Playhouse is the most recent company to make the attempt, opening the play last weekend at The Main Place, 1800 S. Main, in Broken Arrow.
In it, a well-to-do couple, Charley and Myra Brock (who never actually appear in the play) host a party for their 10th wedding anniversary. The first guests who arrive, Ken and Chris Gorman (Terry Michael and Kris Osborn, respectively) find Charley, who is deputy mayor of their little suburban town, with a gunshot in his ear and his wife Myra missing.
Three other couples arrive -- Lenny and Claire Ganz (Tyler Robins and Elaine Montgomery), who were involved in a fender bender in their new BMW on the way to the party; Ernie and Cookie Cusak (Steve Cowan and Ruth Seefeldt), a psychoanalyst and a cook, who comes dressed in a pink dress reminiscent of Glenda the Good Witch; and Glen and Cassie Cooper (Nic Bushta and Sheila Alley). Cassie is convinced her husband, who is running for state senate, has been cheating on her.
The first two couples decide- to protect their wealth and social standing- to conceal the incident from the police and their friends and go on with the party as if everything were normal.
From the first line, Simon's script is fast-paced and quit-witted, requiring impeccable comedic timing on the part of its players, the kind of timing that is difficult for professional actors to pull off, let alone the average amateur.
In this vein, there were definite hits and definite misses.
Simon's characters sometimes seem over the top and ridiculous, but they're actually fairly average. They're farcical exaggerations of actual people. And it's easy, with such strong personalities and strange events, to overact a show like this. A few of the BACP actors fell into this trap.
With the exception of Michael, Osborn and Robins, I thought most of the performances were overdone. Certainly they all had their moments of hilarity, but, for the most part, I found myself wishing that, instead of exaggerating their lines, they would have allowed them to come more naturally.
This is where the three aforementioned actors excelled. Sure, there were moments that felt unnatural, but I felt like these three, more than their co-players, knew their characters and played them well.
Osborn, for example, didn't appear as an actress playing a daft character. She played the part so well, so naturally, that I found myself wondering whether she were really a moron (I know that she's not). Her lines fell from her lips naturally, making the jokes all the more effective.
Likewise, Michael and Robins timed their lines well, so that the laughter that ensued came suddenly and with reason.
I enjoyed Seefeldt's performance as well, although her shrill shrieking seemed a bit goaded.
Some of the other performances lacked the subtlety that would have made them even funnier. I guess what I'm saying is, you don't need to force the acting; your audience will still get the joke, even without you rubbing it in our faces.
I wished Bushta's character hadn't been so passive.
Most of the exchanges between Alley and him are arguments about his infidelity, and they would have been made funnier had he mocked her more, been more passive-aggressive, rather than an accidental doormat.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the show came in the second act. The police (Justin Mayer and Tabitha Phillips) come to the house to investigate what the dinner guests assume are the gunshots that have come from the house, and they scramble to make up a cover story.
When it's made apparent that's not the reason for the visit, as the police are headed out the door, Glen says, "My wife and I arrived late. (Two-beat pause.) We didn't even here the gunshot."
What should have been the most pivotal and guffaw-enduing line of the show was flubbed by the long pause before Glen's admission of hearing the gunshot. Rather than coming off as a slip of the tongue, it appeared as though Bushta meant to let the confession slip.
I also found Mayer's Barney Fife impersonation a little off-putting, but it seemed to go over well with the audience, and, as far as impersonations go, it was a good one.
The show ended with a riotous performance by Robins that had the audience in stitches.
The entire theater, which was packed, seemed enormously pleased with the whole show, actually. But a Neil Simon script is going to get some laughs no matter what. It's likely that many in the audience didn't notice or won't agree with my assertion that the show was overplayed. But, had the subtlety been there, they would have noticed the difference.
And I'm not saying I didn't like the show. Some moments did make me laugh. I just found myself throughout the performance wishing that the actors and the director (Jay Christie) had been more thoughtful, more deliberate with the delivery of lines and the staging of the movement.
Had the characters been more developed and had the actors known their characters a bit better, the lines and the action would have flowed more naturally.
Rumors continues its run this weekend, Feb. 12-14 at 8pm and Feb. 15 at 2pm. For tickets and other information, www.bacptheatre.com.
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