Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Also see Rob's review of Quartet
Rumors carries the cachet of having been written by the most popular writer of American comedies in the twentieth century, Neil Simon. After a series of mostly autobiographical plays, Simon said that he wanted to try his hand at a pure farce. Rumors opened on Broadway in 1988 with a big-name cast and director. Would it have made it to Broadway if it had not been written by Neil Simon? Probably not. The script is better than adequate, but not brilliantly funny. (To be fair, there aren't many plays that are.) A few telephone conversations go on a little too long. Various rumors are introduced about so-and-so having an affair with so-and-so, but these are all forgotten in the second act. There's a several-minutes-long, bitter squabble between the youngest couple that seems out of place in a comedy. Maybe if Rumors had been made into a movie, like so many other of Simon's plays, the script would have been tightened up, but that never happened. Farce works better on stage than on film, anyway.
The setup is that a tenth anniversary party is being thrown by the deputy mayor of New York City and his wife at their home. Four upper-class couples are invited. When they arrive, the wife is nowhere to be found, the servants have left, there's no food prepared, and the deputy mayor has a gunshot wound to his earlobe. Was it a suicide attempt? Foul play? What the heck is happening in this house? As in a typical farce, the plot is not as important as the action on stage. People go in and out of doors a lot, they miscommunicate and misinterpret and prevaricate, and they do shtick. The funniest moments are a classic spit-take and one character's inability to open a bag of pretzels.
This production is blessed with a terrific set and cast. The two-level set, bridged by a long staircase sturdy enough to hold the entire cast, was designed by Henry Avery and Joe Moncada and constructed by Thane Kenny, Rob Raucci, Xazziel Martinez, and Emma Ziegler. I would gladly move into that house. Joe Moncada also did the costumes, including some classic evening gowns.
Henry Avery directs; he has cast the show well and rehearsed them to perfection. Eric Werner and Nicole Erdman are good as the police officers who show up in the second act. Fawn Hanson is appropriately irritating in the thankless role of a crabby wife; and David Bello, as her husband who is a candidate for the state senate, captures the essence of a young politician whose only qualification for running for office seems to be his good looks. Joel Daniel Miller and Stephanie Larragoite also do well in their somewhat underwritten roles, a psychiatrist and a woman who has a cooking show on TV. (Ms. Larragoite doesn't try to imitate any famous TV chef, but her part would probably have been funnier if she had done Martha Stewart or Julia Child.)
Dehron Foster gets a workout running up and down that staircase umpteen times, and he does exasperation very well as Ken, the lawyer who is the first to arrive at the party. Ken's wife is played by Michelle Volpe Roe, a good comic actress. Her character, Chris, drinks like a fish during the show, and I expected that she would be totally sloshed by the end, but Rose doesn't play that up much. I think she would get more laughs if she did. Ronda Lewis looks great in her beautiful dress and her 1980s hairdo, and she carries off the role of Claire well, but it doesn't give her much opportunity for comedy. She needs to project her voice more, since the show is not mic-ed.
The best reason to see this play is the performance of Matt Heath as Lenny. One of my rules for theatergoers in Albuquerque is that if it's a comedy and Matt Heath is in it, don't miss it. His comic timing is impeccable, most of what he does on stage is somehow both exaggerated and natural, and his long monologue near the end is a gem. I found out after the show that he was a replacement for another actor who had to leave the production. It's amazing work for only half the rehearsal time.
An important factor in getting a show like this to be a success is to make sure the audience gets into it. Laughter begets laughter. Remember, if you go to see it, and I recommend that you do, you have to play your part too.
Rumors, through May 5, 2019, at the Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00, with extra performances Saturday, April 27, at 2:00; and Thursday, May 2, at 7:30. For tickets and information, visit albuquerquelittletheatre.org or call 505-242-4750.