Party of eight
In the mood for a farcical, comic romp? Even if you’re not a mover and shaker, you’re cordially invited to an exclusive gathering of wealthy New Yorkers, as TMCC presents Neil Simon’s Rumors.
The story takes place in the living room of New York Deputy Mayor Charlie Brock’s mansion, where Charlie and his wife, Myra, are giving a dinner party for four couples to celebrate their 10th anniversary. Ken Gorman, Charlie’s attorney, arrives with his wife, Chris, just in time to hear gunshots upstairs—Charlie, attempting suicide, has shot himself in the earlobe, and Myra is nowhere to be found. Ken faces an unpleasant dilemma: If he reports the shooting to the police, it will lead to political scandal and possible arrest for Brock (attempted suicide being a crime), but if he helps cover it up, Ken is breaking the law and risking his own career. With the help of fellow guests Lenny and Claire Ganz, Ken and Chris scramble to hide Charlie’s accident and Myra’s disappearance from the other partygoers, with progressively more improbable and desperate deceptions as the night goes on. Misunderstandings and minor injuries ensue, but the dinner party must go on—even if the guests of honor are missing and/or perforated.
Farces being what they are, the roles call for snappy line delivery, anxious flailing of arms, and a willingness to fall down repeatedly. For the most part, the actors deliver. Oscar Ovies, as Ken Gorman, is equal parts exasperated and panicked, dashing in and out of various doors to furnish unlikely excuses to the suspicious guests. Bud Perry, as Lenny Ganz, brings a manic energy to the production; fueled by intense, sputtering indignation, he races around the stage, radiating disgust with his fellow conspirators’ incompetence. Phil Harriman plays Cookie Cousak, a role originally written for a ditzy woman. Flamboyant in a fur-trimmed vest and glittering diamond earrings, Harriman prances and shrieks with evident glee. Unfortunately, the actors’ high spirits often lead to lines being shouted unintelligibly, which is a shame because many of the lines we do catch are well-turned and witty.
Less likable are characters like Cassie Cooper (Laura Hodges), an inconsistent hodge-podge of pouty seductiveness and crystal-fondling New Age spirituality, and her husband, Glenn Cooper (Brian Miller), an unpleasantly smarmy politician and adulterous cad who rarely gets the good lines.
The play, which debuted in 1988, remains a mostly fresh and snidely funny portrayal of upper-class manners. Characters gossip behind each others’ backs, gripe about the help, and preen over their gowns and jewelry. Here and there, though, the play shows its age; dated predicaments, like the threat of the deputy mayor going to jail for his suicide attempt, fail to fully explain the characters’ terrified urgency. Much of the humor derives from watching these supposed pillars of society swiftly reduced to self-absorbed hysteria and clownish antics. If pratfalls and deafness jokes don’t tickle your funny bone, this may not be the play for you.
Anyone who’s ever endured an agonizing night at a party from hell—though perhaps not quite as bad as this party—will be amused by the far-fetched but comic sufferings of the reluctant guests. And anyone who’s thinking about planning a dinner party may think twice after seeing Rumors.