By: Anita W. Harris
Some parties are unforgettable. In Neil Simon’s comedy Rumors, at Long Beach Playhouse through March 25, the party becomes raucously farcical as eight guests grapple with a mysteriously missing hostess and a host who has been shot. Director James Rice orchestrates non-stop hilarity for the audience as rumors fly and confidences get convoluted.
The occasion is an anniversary dinner for their well-heeled friends hosted by Charlie, who is Deputy Mayor of New York, and his wife Myra. But the show opens with first arrivals Ken (Jeff Cheezum) and wife Chris (Sarah Green) frantically figuring out how to hide the fact that Charlie has been shot (non-fatally) in what may be a politically damaging suicide attempt, with Myra and the servants nowhere to be found. Hysterics mount as each subsequent pair of guests (with baggage of their own) arrive to this party of pretenses, where they are first deceived about the AWOL host and hostess and then conscripted into keeping the secret from the next arrivals (and, eventually, the police).
All eight actors give fine performances in this physically and verbally demanding production. Jeff Cheezum and Sarah Green carry the show with their spot-on portrayals of Ken and Chris, perfectly believable as two lawyers who seem to argue as sharply between themselves as they do in their practices, while she anxiously attempts to resist smoking and he copes hilariously with a deafening ringing in his ears from a second gunshot.
Fiona Austin and Lee Samuel Tanng do a similarly solid job as snide tennis club members Claire and Lenny. Austin delivers one-line zingers with impeccable timing and Tanng, while he could be more acerbic at times, sustains a climactic second-half monologue that makes the audience laugh out loud at its over-the-top inventiveness (even by this play’s standards) as much as it makes his fellow guests’ jaws drop incredulously. Susie McCarthy as Cookie (who cooks) and Cort Huckabone as Ernie the psychotherapist both provide excellent support.
The modern living room set is tastefully designed by Greg Fritsche in muted colors, with plenty of doors to slam. Costumes by Donna Fritsche— tuxedos for men and sparkling evening gowns for the women— are similarly fitting for these upper class New Yorkers circa 1990. Stage details are managed well by Claire Mazzeo, including a frequently used telephone, various bottles and glasses and a seemingly un-openable bag of pretzels, all of which contribute to the comical complications.
The most amazing thing about this dinner party is how its decidedly adult members (judging by their swearing), fueled by desperation and misplaced priorities, end up creating an elaborate childlike charade to playact for each other and the police, brimming with drama, deceit and even dancing. What better way to spend an evening!
Rumors continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through March 25, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit lbplayhouse.org.