Neil Simon without laughter is like Shakespeare without violence or mistaken identity: It’s just a contradiction in terms. Big Dawg Productions is currently staging Simon’s “Rumors” at the Cape Fear Playhouse and it is filled with laughter!
The show opens with a fairly hysterical couple, Ken and Chris (Kevin Wilson and Brandy Jones), trying to get a doctor on the phone. Someone has been shot, but they don’t want anyone to know it. The “someone,” as it turns out, is their best friend Charlie and their host for the evening, the deputy mayor of New York. The other guests begin arriving, as the setup unfolds.
It’s Charlie and Myra’s 10th wedding anniversary—but the servants are gone, so is Myra, and, though not fatal, Charlie has a bullet in him. Len and Claire (Chris Maxie and Pamela Grier) appear next. Len is Charlie’s accountant, and Claire is his unpleasant rich wife.
Coming out of a car accident, Len has a serious case of whiplash. From Len and Claire, we learn about the rumors that Charlie and Myra’s marriage is on the rocks.
Ernie and Cookie Cusak (Brandon Leatherman and Rhoda Gary) bring to life a truly sickeningly sweet couple: He is a shrink and she has a cooking show and no brains. They are strangely, they most likeable and genuinely human characters in the play.
The Coopers (Daniel Marks and Amanda Young) arrive late, apparently because they have been fighting since they got up that morning. He is running for NY state senate, and therefore does not want to be involved in any hint of scandal. She is determined that he has been having an affair, consequently is miserable and only picks fights with him and everyone else.
In true Neil Simon style, everything that can go wrong does at this dinner party—short of a house fire. Rumors abound! The crux of the show is that all of the couples (except the Cusaks) are struggling with some degree of marital unhappiness. As it turns out, Simon’s greatest successes (“Lost in Yonkers,” “Biloxi Blues,” “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” and the list goes on…) are autobiographical. Thus, “Rumors” made its debut during the time that Simon’s third marriage was ending.
Directed by Tony Moore, (local playwright, actor and director), this show has the stamp of someone with a clear vision and, more importantly, a director who gets comedy. He moves the actors around the stage and on and off purposefully; there is no feeling of lost actors massing together onstage for lack of blocking. As a writer Moore brings his keen understanding of subtext and innuendo to the script. Though Simon is funny, it is only because we see our own foibles and miscalculations magnified in his writing. Chris is trying to quit smoking, and the stress of this situation has driven her to the point of smoking a Q-tip; Cookie has thrown her back out yet still cooks for everyone because it will drive her crazy to watch everyone else make a mess of it.
The rumors each character believes motivates their actions and drives us, the audience, to examine our own mistakes from acting upon false information. Moore has a great eye for casting and has brought together a truly talented group of comedians. Under all the stress these characters are facing, the actors are having a great time on stage—so, consequently, is the audience.
The Cape Fear Playhouse, Big Dawg’s theater in the Castle Street Art and Antique District, is an intimate space. One of the challenges of this show is that it requires a set with an “upstairs” that the actors walk to in order to access the residential part of the mansion. Doug Dodson, scenic designer and technical director of Big Dawg, had his work cut out for him with such a small theater—and he came through goldenly.
Additionally, all of the characters (except for the police at the end) are supposed to be attending a black-tie dinner party. Cape Fear Formal Wear (long-time community theatre supporters) costumed the men in this production, solving the problem of finding four actors who already own tuxedos.
This is truly an ensemble production wherein every cast member works beautifully together. They make each other look good, and the laughs work. From sight gags to repetitious comedy, they have nailed the pacing and the timing for the show.
The night I attended, there was a full house, all of whom leapt to their feet for a much-deserved standing ovation—an ovation that praises the high caliber of live, local theatre in our area. This show is a great example of all the elements coming together: good script selection, strong design and technical work, support form community partners, talented cast and strong directorial vision. Several additional performances are already sold out, so call for reservations early.