As you settle into your seat at Spa Little Theater, you’ll be treated to an old Temptations song called “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” a 1971 hit referring to backstabbing friends. Nice touch by director Kirk Starczewski and sound designer KC Conway because that’s what “Rumors,” Neil Simon’s 1988 comedy, is about.
And while you’re waiting for the play to start, you’ll admire the handsome two-level set by William E. Fritz, an aptly detailed living room of a well-off Westchester couple celebrating their 10th anniversary with friends.
An auspicious beginning, then, to a show that generally lives up to the promise in terms of both script and production.
WHERE: Home Made Theater, Spa Little Theater, Saratoga Springs
WHEN: through May 6
HOW MUCH: $26, $23
MORE INFO: 587-4427 or homemadetheater.org.
The play opens in medias res. Ken (Jonathan Hefter) and Chris (Carol Otoupal) Gorman are frantic about something. She’s pacing downstairs, desperate for a cigarette — which she has recently given up — and he’s darting in and out of an upstairs bedroom door offering fragmented reports about Charlie, the owner of the house, who has been shot.
Soon we learn that Charlie’s wife, Myra, has vanished, despite the fact that four couples are coming to celebrate the anniversary. Clearly — but that may be the wrong word in a play where confusion reigns, sometimes on purpose and sometimes just because — there has been a blowup between Myra and Charlie. Their guests will spend the evening picking up the pieces.
For Gazette thearte writer Bill Buell’s preview of this show, click here.
Entering next are Lenny (John Sutliff) and Claire (Toni Anderson-Sommo) Ganz, followed by Ernie (Mark Todaro) and Cookie (Darlene Kelly) Cusack, and Glenn (Tim Christensen) and Cassie (Allison McArdle). Each of them gets some piece of the story that is being spun out by those already on the scene, bits of truth and fiction concocted to protect the reputation of Charlie, who is the deputy mayor of New York City. Of course, the police (played by Nick Casey and Cristina DiCarlo) eventually arrive.
Ever the craftsman, Simon deftly makes us believe every unbelievable minute. Is it possible that Cookie will find herself crawling on all fours at one point? Could Claire and Chris be in the bathroom at the same time? Would Ernie serve drinks with burn bandages on his hands? Would Lenny pretend to be Charlie? Yes!
Simon doesn’t always succeed. Ken’s constant misunderstanding of what people are saying wears out fast. Glenn spends too long at the bathroom door with nothing to do. And notwithstanding a crack about Albany that had the audience laughing, a number of the one-liners aren’t particularly funny.
Starczewski has elicited strong work from his cast, half of whom are first-timers at HMT, and all of whom know the idiosyncracies of their characters well. Their collective reactions to the bells are quite amusing. If there were times on Friday when I wished for a bit more speed than there was, both verbally and physically, I’m sure the pace will quicken during the run.
McArdle and Christensen give the proceedings a needed jolt in their depiction of a warring couple. Sutliff amuses as an increasingly exasperated accountant whose new BMW has just been hit and who can’t stand a good-for-nothing at the country club. And Anderson-Sommo brings a delicious drollness to Claire’s comments, delivered like a Greek chorus of one, drink constantly in hand.
Simon fans, you will not be disappointed.
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