at the Reuben Cordova
In 1988, Neil Simon, having finished a trilogy of successful plays based on his youth (Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound), went in the opposite direction with a wild farce. Unlike his other comedies, which have a basis in reality, Rumors flies in the face of all reason. That would be fine if there were enough humor to sustain two and a half hours, but only a few jokes work, and they are all in the first act. It's an odd choice for a revival by this respected company, and the weak material is severely exacerbated by Howard Teichman's over-the-top direction, leading to several ineffective performances.
The play opens as Charlie, who is never seen, has shot himself in the ear before the start of a party at his house. The first guests to arrive, Ken and Chris Gorman (Jeffrey Winner and Tina Gloss-Finnell), frantically try to figure out what's going on. Charlie is incapacitated, his wife is missing, and so are the servants. The Gormans try, unsuccessfully, to hide the apparent suicide attempt from the next couple to arrive, Lenny and Claire Ganz (Lary Ohlson and Cheryl David). Next, the foursome tries to keep the secret from Ernie and Cookie Cusack (Gary Ballard and Livia Treviño), and then all try to fool Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Richard Epcar and Ellyn Stern). With each arrival, the lies and physicality become wilder.
While little could save Simon's repetitive script, Teichman makes matters worse by starting the production at top speed, so there's nowhere else to take it. Winner and Gloss-Finnell, as Ken and Chris, are running, screaming, and stammering from their first exchanges. And each character does the same, like circus clowns exiting a car and stepping into an in-process pie fight. The result is that no tension is built. Also, all of the laugh lines, both good and bad, are delivered in the same rapid-fire way, which doesn't allow for the humor to derive from alterations in tone. It's difficult to fault a cast that is following specific orders, but the uniformity of the performances means no one stands out, except for Ohlson, merely because Lenny has the best lines.
Jeff G. Rack's set design, an upper-class living room, is attractive but too fragile to withstand the constant running and door slams, as evidenced by a sconce that became partially detached from the wall—a silent commentary on this production.
Presented by Theatre 40 at the Reuben Cordova Theatre, 241 Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m. (Also Sat. 3 p.m. Aug. 12-26. Sun. 2 p.m. Jul. 30, Aug.6, Sep. 3). Jul. 29-Sep. 3. (310) 364-0535.
Reviewed by Jeff Favre