Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
+ A bleeding party host/husband upstairs and not to be seen
+ A wife/hostess mysteriously absent altogether
+ Servants suddenly vanished
+ No prepared food
+ Some of New York's la-de-da finest arriving for what they believe is a 25th anniversary party of the host and hostess
= Another Neil Simon classic farce, this one being Rumors.
With a cast whose tongues are fully in cheek, slapstick skills are sharply honed, and mission is to milk every laugh possible from the ninety-minute script, Hillbarn Theatre stages an entertaining Rumors, a play that initially premiered in 1988 following a slew of major stage hits over the previous quarter century for Neil Simon. With little social or redeeming value other than to produce much laughter from increasingly silly misunderstandings and maladies, Rumors is the kind of diversion current audiences may find particularly welcome, given the not-so-funny daily headlines from Washington, D.C.
With such guests arriving as the deputy mayor of New York, a to-be candidate from the state assembly, a TV show host, a leading psychoanalyst, and a well-known lawyer to the rich and famous, this is a party not looking for any scandal, any gossip escaping to the press, and certainly no police. But what happens when the host has evidently attempted suicide and his lovely wife, rumored to be in the midst of a hot love affair, is no where to be found?
What happens is chaos. (After all, it is Neil Simon.) Phones ring and door knocks pound that no one wants to answer. Physical maladies among the guests multiply by the minute, as do outlandish theories and excuses about what is really going on behind the closed bedroom door upstairs. Affairs (real and rumored) are whispered and then shouted while fired and counter-fired insults (accidental and then intended) mount into ugly piles. A bathroom door locks in escaping wives while doors everywhere slam with the might of hurricane winds.
And that does not begin to tell the real story of what happens during this party from hell, where whatever that can go wrong, does.
Ken and Chris Gorman (Craig C. Lewis and Bobbi J. Fagone) are the first to arrive, greeted into the empty house by a gunshot upstairs. Their immediate, manic panic does not ever subside as each runs (never walks) here, there, and everywhere to figure out how not to tell any of the other guests what has really occurred (which they have yet fully to figure out themselves).
Lenny and Claire Ganz (James Amato and Linda Piccone) arrive next, already atwitter after suffering a hit-and-run accident on the way over. As Lenny, James Amato is immediately a howl to behold with his stiff, bent head stuck looking a bit upwards (whiplash) and his amazed, cave-like mouth often agape as he learns each new bit of disastrous news. Linda Piccone is equally funny as she and Chris Gorman plays wives who try and support their husbands in plotting excuses for the evening's mysteries but really just prefer to gossip together and have a sip of something alcoholic or a drag on a forbidden cigarette.
Kelly Hudson is Cookie Cusack, a TV cooking show host whose back spasms send her into positions that Lucy Ricardo would have difficulty mimicking. Not to be outdone, Cookie's husband Ernie (Dan Demers), who affectionately refers to his spouse by such names as "Chicken Feed" and "Little Pork Chop," is on the losing end of a bizarre kitchen accident that leaves him with ammunition for major hilarity as we watch his much-exaggerated misery. Together, the pair is a real trophy in casting as they continually provide some of the evening's most outrageous moments.
Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Bill Davidovich and Nicole Martin) walk into the soupy mess already stirred to the boiling point by more accidents, more hot buttons targeted, and more doors still being slammed. The fact they bring in obvious marital problems full of accusations and counter-accusations only adds to the hubbub and tension.
Rounding out the cast (not surprisingly) are two investigating officers, played by Paul G. Smith and David Street. They force their way into a spontaneous dance party with moves that have to be seen to be believed.
A farce like this calls for lots of doors and steps, and Kuo-Hao Lo has insured plenty of each in the magnificently detailed two-level set design of a home befitting a socially upperclass couple. Walls are full of bright modern art, fixtures and furniture are well chosen, and fireplace, bar, and pillowed window-seat do their parts to establish a New York suburban house that should have a few servants running around to serve canapés and martinis but tonight, does not. David Gottlieb's lighting design shows off the entire large interior in proper, required flair.
Zak Stamps provides the necessary well-timed surprises sound-wise to ensure the scene remains in continuous uproar as well as the music that upper-class socialites might play to appear cool and hip. Mae Heagerty-Matos dresses the men in stylish tuxes and the women in the finest of cocktail wear. (Well, maybe that does not describe Cookie's Russian-inspired outfit with its scores of hanging tassels; but Cookie is proud of her grandmother's hand-me-down.)
So laughs do come often during this Neil Simon comedy, but they do not always continue at their initial volume. The playwright tends to repeat farcical set-ups to the point of ad nauseam far too often. His mantra seems to be, if it works once, why not five, seven, or even a dozen times? So a misheard word by a guest who suddenly has clogged ears becomes a joke that just will not quit. Fingers that will not dial or work a doorknob get to try those feats again and again. This list goes on and on. As much as director Hunt Burdick does all he can to orchestrate his cast through the many moments of shared absurdity, there is only so much he or anyone can do when the script calls "one more time for the Gipper" after one too many times have already been performed of the same antic.
But that being said, the initial goofs and gaffs are plentiful and the sudden surprises keep coming until the final momentall enough to give plenty of fodder for this fine cast to provide its audience with a needed escape into pure silliness at Hillbarn's Rumors.
Rumors continues through March 26, 2017, at Hillbarn Theatre, 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City CA. Tickets are available online at www.hillbarntheatre.org or by calling 650-349-6411.