Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, November 2002

Sometimes, comedy writers just wanna have fun. Sometimes it is good to pick up your pen and be funny just because you can, not because you have to or because you are trying to sugar coat a darker theme, but because making people laugh is an admirable end in itself.

When I was young I wanted very badly to be Neil Simon just so that I could make people laugh. And watching the Columbia Civic Players excellent production of Simon’s Rumors rekindled that ambition. What a great gift Simon has to be able to turn out two and a half hours of wet-your-pants funny stuff with barely a plot or character in sight. There is plenty of theatre that makes you think. This is theatre that makes you laugh…and laugh and laugh and laugh.

The premise for this broad, slapstick farce is that three upper class New York couples arrive at the home of a friend, the Deputy Mayor, no less, to celebrate his 10th wedding anniversary, and find their host bleeding from the head, his wife and household staff missing. The wound is superficial, as is this pretense at a plot, but the hilarity that ensues as they all try to cover for themselves and each other is serious.

Simon has not really bothered to create characters here, he just spreads the jokes and pratfalls around liberally. Four characters are given rhyming names – Ken, Len, Glenn, and Gwen – and all the wives have names that begin with C – Chris, Claire, Cookie, and Cassie. They aren’t people, they are jokes waiting to happen. Simon obviously assumed that a talented cast would each bring their own physical comic presence to his words. Which means that this play would be a disaster with a weak cast.

Luckily the CCP comes through with a stellar bunch. Even Nancy DuVall and Erik Speilmann in minor roles as police officers in Act Two bring a firm sense of ownership to their parts. But it is John Wallace as accountant Lenny Ganz who completely steals the show. Wallace is aided by his striking physical resemblance to the late, great W.C. Fields – you are ready to laugh the minute you see his nose – but he can really act as well. From the order of the curtain calls I assume that Neal Berntson and Stephanie Tanaka, cast as the high strung lawyers Ken and Chris Gorman, were supposed to carry the show, but Wallace picked it up and carried it off from under their noses before they had hoisted it waist high.

Prudence J.M. Theriault is a fine match for Wallace cast as Lenny’s wife Claire. Thanks to Joanne Maurer’s costumes everyone looks just great, and, although some of the other ladies have snazzier hair-dos (Tanaka and Patricia Martin-Skiermont’s hair is credited to the Rebekah Hair Salon in Ghent), Theriault, with her long red hair, is a real knock-out.

Bill Camp has designed a creamy smooth set that perfectly captures the high-gloss look of 1980’s affluence. And director Kate Gulliver sends her cast careening around the small space with amazing ease. The chaos at the first act curtain is truly inspired.

The audience I attended with laughed non-stop and the house was filled. I understand that tickets are hard to come by, so call right away. The Columbia Civic Players have cleverly selected the perfect harmless family fare for the Thanksgiving holiday weeks, and they deserve to be rewarded with packed houses and a healthy profit at the box office.

Rumors, performed by the Columbia Civic Players, runs November 21-23 and November 29-December 1 at the Ghent Playhouse, on Town Hall Road just off of Rt. 66 in Ghent, NY. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission. Except for a few standard four letter words, the show is suitable for children eight and up.

Friday and Saturday performances are at 8:00, with a Sunday matinee at 2:00. Tickets for evening performances are $12, matinees $11, with $1 off for students and seniors. All seats are reserved and early reservations are recommended, especially over the busy holiday weekend. For tickets and information call the box office at 518-392-6264.

copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002

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