Simon’s ‘Rumors’ aims barbs at country club set

By Johanna Crosby, Cape Cod Times

Nobody’s better at creating neurotic characters than Neil Simon.

And eight of them create combustible laughter in his riotous 1988 comedy, “Rumors.”

The plot-driven play was Simon’s first and very funny attempt at farce. The production, presented by Elements Theatre Company, is a sheer workout for your funny bone thanks to Sister Danielle Dwyer’s deft direction and a fine, well-balanced ensemble cast who serve up comical depictions of their quirky characters. The laughs are steady with hilarious sight gags, physical comedy, mistaken identities and confusion and Simon’s trademark one-liners.

Simon uses “Rumors” to poke fun at the status-conscious, country club set.

Four well-heeled couples face a dilemma when they show up for Charlie and Myra’s 10th anniversary party only to find the host holed up in his bedroom with a superficial gunshot wound to his earlobe and his wife and the help missing. They go to any length to protect their reputations and fabricate preposterous stories that lead to zany twists and turns. It’s great fun to watch these self-absorbed folks make utter fools of themselves.

Ken and Chris are the first couple to arrive and hear the gunshots. As Charlie’s lawyer, Ken is concerned about protecting his client, the deputy mayor of New York, from a scandal. Ken refuses to call the police and forces Chris to lie to the other couple’s and pretend nothing’s wrong. Over the course of two acts the other couples engage in the cover-up which fuels the comedy. Lies pile upon lies leading to total confusion and hilarity.

Chris Kanaga is unflappable as the logical lawyer Ken who becomes unglued by the goings-on, especially when he accidentally loses his hearing. Dwyer is very funny as his tense, frantic wife Chris. Her exasperated phone conversations with Charlie’s doctor are comical.

Brad Lussier plays the hyper Lenny who visibly suffers from whiplash from a car accident. He’s funniest when he poses as Charlie and tells the police a convoluted story. Ellen Ortolani is deliciously funny as Claire, his catty, gossipy wife.

The tension is between the openly hostile couple, Glenn and Carrie, played by Luke Norman and Kate Shannon, is palpable.

Brother Stephen Velie and Rachel McKendree are amusing as the obnoxiously affectionate couple Ernie and Cookie. A fine physical comedian, the ever-smiling McKendree engages in various contortions to deal with her character’s back spasms.

The first act ends in a very funny scene in which each character is engaged in his and her own hang-up. The highlight of the second act features the couples dancing frenetically to “La Bamba.”

As the two no-nonsense cops, Kyle Norman and N. Karen Catlin are perfect straight men to the loony bunch.