[Photos by David Clements-DWC Photography]
Followers of the comic genius of playwright, Neil Simon, have another chance to sample his oft-times hilarious repertoire with the current Stage Right production of the zany comedy, “Rumors,” now playing at Conroe’s historic Crighton Theatre. Those expecting to attend should plan on arriving early for an additional sampling of the work and wit of Mr. Simon. As has become the pleasant custom at Crighton, there is a cleverly assembled pre-show screening (during the half hour before curtain) of various videos, photos and sound bites related to the theatre’s current offering. In this case, there is a generous dose of movie trailers from Simon films such as “The Sunshine Boys,” and “Murder By Death,” along with hilarious outtakes from the TV series, “The Odd Couple,” and numerous interesting interview clips from Mr. Simon himself. Then, following a brief introduction by director, Travis Bryant, it was on with the show.
The plot of this very nutty farce involves the arrival, one by one, of four elegant couples (formal attire from costume designer, Sydney Elias), who are invited to the tenth wedding anniversary celebration of Charlie Brock and his wife Myra. The gathering is to be held at the Brock’s fashionable townhouse in New York City where Charlie serves as Deputy Mayor. The first couple to arrive, Chris & Ken Gorman (Jen Watson and Robert Faber), find the home apparently empty, but soon discover the host is upstairs recovering from an unexplained gunshot wound through his own earlobe, while his wife and the household servants are missing altogether. When Claire and Lenny Ganz are the next guests to arrive (Amy Sowers & Allen Doris), the Gormans try not to reveal what has happened for fear of a government scandal in the Mayor’s office. Attempts at secrecy get continually more complicated with the arrival of Ernie & Cookie Cusak (Joey Hancock and Melody Montez), and the final guests, Glenn and Cassie Cooper (portrayed by real life husband and wife, Jonathan & Sherry Rozas).
The ensuing hilarity involves everything from car accidents to marital spats, not to mention dinner guests having to figure out how to prepare their own dinner. With each silly twist and turn of the convoluted plot, everything is punctuated by a seemingly endless parade of comic entrances and exits, while the players come and go in rapid succession through the numerous doors of this attractive townhouse set that is a star in its own right. A collaborative effort from designer, Deanie Harmon, and Master Carpenter, Dennis O’Connor, the bi-level set is both attractively designed and functional for the action of the piece.
Now by way of way of full disclosure, as a matter of personal taste I sometimes find farce to be tedious. I most often react this way when actors seem intent on telegraphing (perhaps with rolling eyes or exaggerated body language and movement) what they think they must put across as funny. This can be a problem when a clever author like Neil Simon has already built “funny” into the script. It all works best when the characters seem almost unaware of the humor in the comical things they say and do, but we, the audience, can then have the pleasure of discovering what is ridiculous without having to be hit over the head with it. While we sometimes see these dangers played out in this production, it must be said that there was plenty of roaring laughter from the audience throughout the play, and much of it was my own. Happily the hilarity reached its most delicious levels as Act Two moved toward its hilarious conclusion. Special credit for that must go to the strong comic performance of David Herman as Police Officer Welch (with nice assistance from Stella Leland as Officer Pudney). Above all, the closing scene has a memorable and uproarious performance from Mr. Dorris who provides the play’s comic crescendo when he perfectly delivers one of the funniest (and longest) monologues in the comedy repertoire as his character, Lenny, tries to explain the nutty events of the evening to the police. Talk about “Leave ‘em laughing!” Bring along your laugh muscles for that one!
RUMORS continues through May 1st, 2016 with Friday & Saturday performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m., all at the beautiful Crighton Theatre, 234 N. Main St. in Conroe, Texas. For tickets ($15-$20) and information, call 936-441-7469 or visit the website at www.stage-right.org
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic@earthlink.net.