RUMORS at CenterRep is ready for a revival on Broadway.

Left - Right: Mark Anderson Phillips*,Lynda DiVito,Michael Butler*,Kerri Shawn,Gabriel Marin*, Sharon Rietkerk*,Jennifer Erdmann*,Mark Farrell.*

RUMORS: A Farce/Comedy by Neil Simon, directed by Timothy Near. Center REPertory Company, Lesher Center for the Arts, Margaret Lesher Theatre, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek.925-9437469 or March 30-April 28, 2012

RUMORS at CenterRep is ready for a revival on Broadway.

If you are looking for an evening of fun and side splitting hilarity head off to Walnut Creek to see CenterRep’s production of Neil Simon’s comedy/farce/mystery Rumors that brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation on opening night. Director Timothy Near who two years ago shepherded Noises Off to a highly successful run again demonstrates her comic credentials. She is aided and abetted with a cast that reads as a Who’s Who in the Bay Area. There is a bit of nepotism since she has cast her husband and artistic director Michael Butler in one of the roles. In this case, that nepotism is good, very good.

Rumors first saw light of day at the Old Globe in San Diego in 1988, where it underwent many rewrites before moving to Broadway for an extended run. A quick search of Google confirms its popularity in regional theaters with reviews ranging from ecstatic to ho-hum. There is nothing ho-hum about the CenterRep’s production and without denigrating other members of the cast; the Tony Award will go to Mark Anderson Phillips for his hilarious performance. He will have to share that award with the well balanced cast that Near moves around, at times, like chess pieces and other times like sparing boxers with non-stop action.

There is an unwritten rule that farce requires four doors to accommodate the multiple entrances and exits. The obligatory numbers of doors are there but there is also a fifth door that fits into the mystery angle of the plot, its purpose is not to be revealed here. It also helps that Nina Ball has created a fantastic two story interior set with a soaring stage left staircase that is an integral part of the action and can be construed as a sixth door.

The convoluted plot is set in motion with the premise that an unseen couple, Charlie and Myra, are throwing a party to celebrate 10 years of ecstatic marriage. First to arrive at their upscale home are Chris (Jennifer Erdmann) and Ken Gorman (Mark Farrell) only to find Charlie shot, covered with blood (all off stage), an apparent suicide note and a loaded gun nearby. Ken is at a loss to understand “Why Charlie? Why?” The frantic Ken attempts unsuccessfully to be calm while Chris is shaken up enough to gain solace in a cigarette that she has given up for a year. Other unanswered questions are where are Myra and the servants and why is there no food?

It seems that Charlie is the Deputy Mayor of New York and if the details of what has apparently happened become known the scandal would be devastating. But what did happen? There are rumors that Charlie and Myra have had clandestine affairs and may be splitting up. When the other guests arrive the “secrets” become non-secret and all are sworn to secrecy.

Claire (Lynda Divto) and Lenny Ganz (Mark Anderson Phillips) arrive after their new BMW has been struck by another car and Lenny has whiplash. Time to call a doctor for Lenny and maybe for Charlie? No, no! Call the police? No, no! What then? There is supposed to be a party so why not have one. And who better than “Cookie” (Kerri Shawn) wife of psychiatrist Ernie Cusack (Michael Butler) even though she is hampered with back spasms. Near uses the whiplash of Lenny and back spasms of Cookie to great comic advantage. Before the first act ends he adds another infirmity to mine the humor. There is a gunshot, no one is hurt but Ken is temporarily deaf. You can imagine what Neil Simon does with that turn of events and Mark Farrell milks his part to perfection with the aid of misunderstood lines by the other characters.

The shenanigans continue in act two with a third couple Glenn (Gabe Marin) and Cassie (Sharon Rietkerk) Cooper arriving. Marin and sexy Rietkerk play off each other with professional aplomb. In an attempt to resolve the issues (solve the mystery?), Simon introduces Officer Welch (Dorian Lockett) and Officer Welch (Amanda Dennison) who are investigating the shots heard by the neighbors and the auto accident. To obfuscate the true events, the three couples decide to impersonate various people to answer the Officers questions.

The plot bogs down slightly in the second act since the play lasts two hours and 20 minutes, but is brought to a dazzling conclusion with Phillips masquerading as Charlie brings the house down with his explanatory monolog and Near creates a tableau with cast on the staircase (see photo above) and the reason for the fifth door becomes known.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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