Grace under pressure

Proscenium Players keep the audience laughing after a stressful interruption

From left, Beth Petersen, Ralph Maldonado and Susan Squires star in <i>Rumors</i>.

From left, Beth Petersen, Ralph Maldonado and Susan Squires star in Rumors.

Rated 3.0

The Brewery Arts Center theater was packed last Saturday night, and I mean that in the most literal sense possible. Theatergoers were crammed into every available chair, including the one the ticket-taker had been using, and more would-be patrons were being turned away at the door. I was lucky to get the seat I did—at the very top of the bleachers, three seats to the left—although it was warmer up there near the ceiling.

Proscenium Players Inc.'s production of Neil Simon’s Rumors was just getting its legs under it. The audience was chuckling mildly, and then laughing heartily, and we were just reaching that stage when the actors have to pause for the noise to die down before they can go on. Momentum was building.

Then, the woman in front of me passed out.

“Help! I need some help over here! Is anyone here a doctor?” the man sitting next to her cried. All of the patrons in my section jumped to their feet and began moving chairs out of the way, fanning the woman with their programs, while another called 911 on a cell phone. As it turned out, she was just a little overheated. The paramedics who showed up awfully fast said she had low blood pressure and escorted her out of the theater.

The cast of Rumors could have easily been shaken. Not only was the play interrupted for a half-hour by a medical emergency, but it happened just when the momentum of the play was really getting going. But with very little backtracking and no visible strain, they jumped right back into the fray and proceeded to bring the house down.

Of course, some of the credit goes to Neil Simon, whose inventive plots and sarcastic dialogue are always a pleasure. In Rumors, the Deputy Mayor of New York and his wife are throwing a party to celebrate their 10th anniversary. But when the guests arrive, the wife and the servants are missing, and the host is drugged up on Valium with a bullet hole in his ear. Thinking that their host may have tried to commit suicide, the guests begin devising ways to keep this scandal secret from each other, and then from the cops who show up to investigate. Unlike the Proscenium Players, these characters show little grace under pressure, and while they bitch at each other and frantically plan their cover-up, you’re sure to have a good time.

Stand-out performances include that of Jason Nash, whose Lenny Ganz character—uptight, neurotic and with a vague East Coast accent—kept the action barreling along and inspired cheers from the crowd. Scott Van Tuyl was also characteristically good as lawyer Ken Gorman, and Beth Petersen plays off Van Tuyl well as his dim-witted wife. Melanie Collup rounds out the foursome with her acerbic delivery.

I was also quite impressed with the set design, which was larger and more elaborate than I expected. Compliments are deserved for producer Maizie Harris Jesse and director Leslie Holland for their work.

And by the way, if you plan to see Rumors this weekend—the closing weekend—stop what you’re doing and call now for reservations. The show is selling out consistently, and you’ll be sorry you missed it.