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Deft Dialogue Delivery and Impeccable Comic Timing Make Neil Simon’s Rumors Hilarious

Was that gunshot? Maybe it was a “thud” from someone falling down the stairs. Perhaps, a car backfired (in the bedroom?). Or did a balloon pop? Could a can of shaving cream have exploded? Maybe it was a manhole cover popping off…. Wait! Was that another one?

Under the direction of Raleigh Little Theatre associate education director Kathleen Rudolph, the Apex Peak Players once again has wowed an audience to the point of filling the Halle Cultural Arts Center (in Historic Downtown Apex) with waves and peals of laughter — this time with their frantically paced production of Neil Simon’s 1988 comedy, Rumors: An Elegant Farce.

Come prepared to laugh. The script is rife with one-liners, double entendres, and comical erroneous assumptions. (There are also a plethora of guffaws generated by the misunderstandings when one character experiences a temporary loss of hearing.) In addition, sight gags abound; and so do a few do well-executed pratfalls. Above all: this cast delivers the comic dialogue with impeccable timing (most of the time).

The Plot:

To celebrate their wedding anniversary, Charley and Myra Brock have invited friends over for a fancy dinner party. Four couples show up, all elegantly dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns.

Problem: the first couple to arrive finds that Myra and “the help” are missing, no food has been prepared, and Charlie is upstairs with a gunshot wound to the head. Because Charlie is the Deputy Mayor of New York City (and they don’t want to start any rumors!), this couple elects to withhold the facts from the other couples as they arrive, thereby weaving an increasingly tangled web of indirections that wind up tight and then systematically unwind, leaving the four couples at a loss regarding what to do next.

The action unfolds in the living room of the Brocks’ upscale home in Sneden’s Landing, New York. As characters enter and exit, various combinations of characters remain in the room; and we are privy to series of wit-laden conversations, discussions, and arguments from which many, many rumors emerge.

(Interesting fact: we never actually meet the hosts — Charley and Myra.)

Enter two police officers. Turn up the heat. And the plot thickens.

The Cast:

Jenny Anglum is hilarious portraying Chris Gorman as a bundle of nerves. Chris Brown is equally funny as her husband Ken Gorman with his down-played, deadpan responses to her frenzy. The stark contrast between the two characters’ reactions to the situation creates a yo-yoing effect that accentuates the hilarity of each’s individual “bits.”

Larry Evans and Elaine Quagliata, as Lenny and Claire Ganz, are just as well matched. They have been in a car accident with Lenny’s brand new car. Lenny has a major problem with his neck, which affords Evans the crowd-pleasing line: “I can only look up; I hope there are tall people at this party.”

As Ernie and Cookie Cusack, Scott Nagel and Michelle Corbitt have some cute, endearing, and down-right funny moments as a “snuggly” type of couple. A TV cooking show host and a therapist, both manage to “do their part” in the context of the plot.

Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Jonathan King and Rebecca Leonard) are the last couple to arrive. They are in the middle of a tiff concerning rumors about Glenn and a possible extramarital relationship. As over-the-top as this marital-mayhem is, it is to King and Leonard’s credit that each creates a believable-yet-laughable character.

Mark Ridenour’s Officer Welch takes charge over-and-over again as the twisting-and-turning of the final scenes unfolds, whereas Rachel McKay’s Officer Pudney handles the walkie-talkie communiqués with headquarters.

The Tech:

The Brock’s living room is well-rendered by scenic designer Thomas Mauney. With this full box-set, he has skillfully avoided a common drawback experienced by shows in this venue — unlike many previous Halle shows, no backstage activity is ever visible. Yay!

In addition to her role as Officer Pudney, Rachel McKay does double-duty as costume designer. The men are all snazzy in their tuxedos, with each sporting a slightly individualized version. The women’s dresses are all quite character-specific — right down to Cookie’s, which she had inherited from her grandmother, and Cassie’s, which is easily the most provocative.

Larry Evans, who doubles as sound designer, has deftly sidestepped the trap of having all sound effects emerge from an offstage speaker. The telephone’s ring seems to originate from the phone itself, and the kitchen mayhem near the end of act one, indeed, comes from the kitchen.

From the Department of Picky-Picky:

Elaine Quagliata’s shoes appeared to be a few sizes too large and seemed to create a bit of difficulty walking at times.

The recording of the kitchen-mayhem referred to above seemed too “canned.” Perhaps, a better recording could be found.

There is stage-left chair in front of the proscenium that is not well-lit. Actors did compensate most of the time by sitting and leaning forward and to their right. I suspect that this will be remedied in subsequent performances.

In the first act, there is a coffee table in front of the couch; in the second act, it had inexplicably disappeared.

The Verdict:

Looking for an evening of laughs? Apex Peak Players’ production of Neil Simon’s Rumors is well worth the price of admission.

This show runs through Sunday, Oct. 13th, Click here for more information and showtimes and here to buy tickets.

REVIEWER: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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