On Theater: 'Rumors' at Playhouse is worth believing

Neil Simon is not known for writing farces. For nearly three decades, the master of comedy crafted semi-autobiographical plays that blended realism with humor.

That changed in 1988 when Simon wrote "Rumors."

"This is completely different for me," he noted soon after the play opened. "It's unlike anything I've ever written. It's my first farce."

With "Rumors," Simon showed he not only understood the world of farce, but could bring his biting wit into that world and create a crazy scenario that was both far-fetched and believable. The play abounds with witty one-liners as well as barely-plausible situations that are ripe with comic potential.

In "Rumors," several affluent couples gather in the posh suburban residence of another couple for a dinner party celebrating their hosts' 10th wedding anniversary. However, they discover there are no servants, the hostess is missing, and the host — the deputy mayor of New York City — has shot himself through the earlobe.

Not surprisingly, rumors abound. Given everyone's social status, they decide to do everything possible to conceal the evening's events from the police.

Writing a farce is one thing. Making it work on stage is another. Fortunately, the Huntington Beach Playhouse's current production of "Rumors" is a delightfully gleeful, funny and fast-paced staging that's consistently fun to watch from start to finish.

Much of that is due to director Terri Miller Schmidt, a veteran of local theater who understands farce and the proper pacing needed to successfully pull it off. She's also assembled a superb cast who appear to be having a gloriously enjoyable time on stage even as they keep in character.

Leading the way are Carrie Theodossin and Greg Wickes as Chris and Ken, the first couple to arrive at the dinner party. Both actors begin on an even note, then hilariously unravel as the evening ensues. They are matched by Mindy Mills and Mitchell Nunn as Claire and Lenny, the second couple to arrive. They've just had a car accident and Lenny has a stiff neck, which scene-stealer Nunn plays to the hilt.

Cleta Cohen and John Francis are Cookie and Ernie, the next couple to arrive and apparently the only ones with cooking skills as they agree to prepare dinner, a move that again allows for some rich comic moments. The last couple, Cassie and Glenn — played by Andrea La Vela and David Rousseve — are having a constant tiff, which La Vela and Rousseve milk for optimum laughs.

James Welsh and Angela Rice aptly portray two skeptical police officers who must endure some awkward alibis.

Simon has generously spread laugh-inducing moments around to all of his characters, and each actor makes the most of those moments.

One thing about "Rumors" that's not a rumor is how much laughter was heard inside Huntington Beach Playhouse on opening night. Despite a bit of adult language and mature themes, "Rumors" is guaranteed to please almost anyone looking for a fun evening of theater.

If You Go

What: "Rumors"

Where: Huntington Beach Playhouse, Huntington Beach Central Library, 7111 Talbert Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Sept. 16

Cost: $18 to $20

Information: (714) 375-0696 or http://www.hbplayhouse.com

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