By Dave R. Davison
Sometimes comedy is subtle, dry and intelligent. Sometimes comedy is brash, loud and energetic. It is the latter, the loud and brash brand of comedy, at work in “Rumors,” Neil Simon’s 1988 farce with which Tacoma Little Theatre launches its 99th season of productions.
Directed by Erin Chanfrau, the TLT show turned out to be fodder for an evening of non-stop laughter for its opening night audience.
The play is set in a posh New York community, Sneden’s Landing, in the late 1980s. A quartet of yuppie couples (that’s a total of eight yuppies for those keeping score) dressed in tuxedos and cocktail dresses converge on the home of their hosts, the deputy mayor and his wife (who are never seen in the play) to celebrate that couple’s 10th wedding anniversary. A potentially scandalous incident involving the deputy mayor’s use of firearms and valium sets the farce in motion. The early arrivals to the party seek to hide the scandal from later arrivals and later all try to hide the events from the police.
Herein are the elements of a classical farce, in which stock characters are set in the midst of an exaggerated situation. The characters are caught up in a multitude of painful problems (physical and/or emotional) like marital strife, nicotine cravings, whiplash, auto accidents, bloody noses, sudden deafness, burns, cuts and the loss of a beloved crystal. Throughout, they curse, shout, crack one-liners and engage in pithy snatches of conversation – all while dressed in their fine clothes.
The sparkling cast launch themselves into their high-octane roles and never let up, much to the delight of the audience. Mark Peterson and Jess Allan play a married pair of lawyers who are first encountered in the midst of having discovered the circumstances of an evening not going according to plan. Matt Garry and Jill Heinecke play the second couple. Heinecke, a versatile actress, here plays a cynical, sophisticated and un-shockable socialite. Garry, meanwhile, is one of the more energetic and hilarious of the cast. His character, Lenny, has to deal with an injury, the damage to a new car and a bag of pretzels that refuse to open. Next on the scene are Jeffery Swiney-Weaver and Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson, playing a psychiatrist and his wife, who has a television cooking show. Houston White and Kristen Blegen Bouyer, play the late arrivals, a politician and his wife, who has adopted the new age mysticism revolving around crystals. The couple is constantly bickering.
The cast is filled out by Andy Bravo and Neicie Packer as a pair of police officers that arrive near the end of Act II. Packer earns a share of the laughs with her wisecracks and wry observations. Blake R. York, who designed and built the set, did a bang-up job for this production. The set consists of a two-storied room with living room furnishings up front, and a well-stocked bar in back. Reproductions of some of Piet Mondrian’s primary-colored abstractions also help set the scene. A flight of stairs leads to a couple of upper doors. Characters also come and go out a bathroom door, a front door and a door that leads to an unseen kitchen. The antiquated telephone, with its comically long, coiled chord is almost one of the characters in the play.
Some features of the play – like the way the women call their cocktail dresses by the names of diseases (shorthand for the philanthropic, fundraising galas at which they’d first worn the outfit in question) – make it a comedy of manners in addition to a farce. Here it pokes fun at the way that charity events are used as a mark of social status resulting in the horrible juxtaposition of the names of terrible diseases and high fashion. Cassie Cooper’s speeches on the power of crystals also make fun of the shallowness of new age spirituality.
Known for his ability to blend tragedy and comedy, Simon, the playwright, was in his prime in the 60s, 70s and 80s; known for Broadway hits like, “Barefoot in the Park,” “The Odd Couple,” and “Biloxi Blues.” He is said to have won more Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. With “Rumors,” Simon was seeking to write a straightforward farce, meant to be sheer entertainment. His success is quite evident in the results achieved by the TLT production. Measured by the laughter and appreciation of the audience, “Rumors” is a hit.
“Rumors” runs through Oct. 1 with showings Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. For tickets and further information visit tacomalittletheatre.com.