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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 10.22.2009

 

Rumors of What Now?

Neil Simon play at the VLT funny even when script is lacking

by Suzi Steffen

Farces need doors. Doors for slamming, running in and out of, confusing the characters and sending them skittering around with energy or in pursuit of safety. The doors must be fraught: What’s behind them? Who’s behind them?

Photo by Rich Scheeland

The Very Little Theatre’s absolute stunner of a set for Neil Simon’s Rumors has seven doors, plus a window or two, on its three floor levels. The script doesn’t quite measure up to the set, but this production, driven by the energies of Leslie A. Murray, Nancy Boyett and the superb Paul Hume Rhoden, hits enough amusing notes to obscure certain plot issues.

The eight characters, comprised of four straight married couples, live their lives with a fair amount of money — as in, a ton. When they need a doctor, they call their (mostly shared) doctor at the theater. One character, whom we never see, is the deputy mayor of New York; another is running for state senate. The men have professions — lawyer, analyst, accountant. They arrive in waves at the home of their friends, Charlie and Myra, who are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. 

Or are they? No one can find Myra; the “help” (one assumes from context that this means cook and her helpers, a butler and possibly a maid) is missing; and just as Ken (Michael Walker) and Chris (Murray, who stays solidly amusing throughout the evening) show up, they hear a gunshot and find Charlie bleeding all over the master bedroom. As the next guests arrive, Ken and Chris try to hush up the story. 

Obviously, when there’s no host or hostess and no food and the servants are missing, dinner guests might wonder what’s happening. Some guests are late, but as Chris tries to juggle a variety of lies and a variety of drinks, she and four others hear a second gunshot. Complications ensue. 

The VLT actors give an awful lot, both physically and mentally, to this demanding play. They move around the stage with ease, if not quite as much manic joy as the doors would demand (that’s the fault of the script). As analyst Ernie Cusack, Bill Campbell (also the set designer) looks like a taller, skinnier Freud and plays Ernie’s character as an able friend and devoted partner to his hapless wife Cookie (Jennifer Sellers). Sellers scores a couple of good lines with her instantly recognizable character, a person who makes her problems into everyone else’s. Nancy Boyett, playing the in-the-know Claire Ganz, keeps the laughs rolling. When the Coopers (Scott Shirk and Leela Gouveia) show up, the secrets get stronger, for Ken and Chris don’t want Glenn Cooper (the candidate for state senate) mixed up in anything. Simon wrote Gouveia’s character as spoiled and haughty, but the actor needs to tone down the fit-throwing whininess and show more subtlety.

In general, the script attempts to cover with nonstop verbal spewing the hole at the center of the supposed conflict. Really: The NYPD would freak out about a man shooting his earlobe? Close friends would try to hide these things from each other with ever more elaborate lies? To quote the Internet, NOWAI.

After intermission, the characters lose their reasons to dissemble, but the plot must creak along. Finally (for the audience and the plot) Paul Hume Rhoden, playing Lenny Ganz, takes over. I wish I’d timed Rhoden’s monologue. His character weaves the lies into an elaborate construction of the evening’s history which, possibly because of its comic genius, eventually takes on an incancatory nature: Is this culminating invention the truth?

Rumors continues through Nov. 7 at the Very Little Theatre. Tix at 344-7751.