It's OK to spread these 'Rumors'

Rumors. What would a small town (or ‘30 Seconds,’ for that matter) be without these juicy tidbits of gossip floating around? Whether we admit it or not, we all love to spread them, and often take delight in their salacity – unless, of course, the rumors are about us. Turns out it’s much the same in the big city, as Neil Simon postulates in his classic farce of the same name. This weekend, the Oxford Civic Theater presents “Rumors” at the Oxford High School auditorium tonight and Saturday at 7 p.m.

While the pervasiveness of gossip-centered culture really knows no economic bounds, Simon sets his comedy of errors firmly in the upper crust, as unseen characters Charlie and Myra Brock (Charlie’s the deputy mayor of New York City) have a few friends over for dinner to celebrate their 10-year anniversary. Unfortunately, the first guests to arrive, Ken Gorman (Allan Hopson/Sackett) and his wife Chris (Colleen Sackett/Hopson) find that the wait staff is gone, Myra is missing, and Charlie’s shot himself in the earlobe in an apparently botched suicide attempt. Given Charlie’s standing in the community, Ken decides it’s best not to let anyone know what happened, even though he and Chris really don’t know what took place themselves. Complications arise when the Gormans take it upon themselves to conceal their hosts’ troubles from the rest of the guests. Next on the scene are Lenny Ganz (Mike McCormack) and his wife Claire (Joanie Bradley), who stumble in after just having wrecked their brand new BMW on the way to the party. The ruse thickens further with the next couple at the door, Charlie’s therapist Ernie Cusack (Allen Lang) and his cooking show hostess wife Cookie (Jan Webb Guistwite). As the web of deception and innuendo grows even more byzantine, in walks senatorial candidate Glenn Cooper (Arik Nesbit) and his estranged wife Cassie (Diane Thorne). The quartet of couples dance around their hosts’ debacle (and their own peccadiloes) until the police (Doug Georgia and Lea Davis) arrive.

Sound complicated? It is. Piling lie upon lie, the dinner party guests trip over themselves trying to protect their own reputations under the guise of keeping the Brocks’ marital woes from going public. “Rumors” is a classic farce – a comedy that employs unlikely, extravagant and unbelievable situations in a fast-paced and witty plot that builds into a feverish pitch. It’s broad, obvious and often physical humor which gives actors ample chance to chew the scenery, as the saying goes.

I dare say that by the end of this weekend, nothing will be left of the Oxford high school theater.

This cast of “Rumors” is truly one of the best ensembles I’ve ever seen on a Chenango stage, and I don’t say that lightly. Because of the complexity of both the word play and the physical comedy, the actors in this show have to be on top of their game and perfectly in sync with each other – and that’s exactly what I saw in a preview of “Rumors” earlier this week. Not only do they play well off each other and have the audience in stitches, it’s also more than apparent that this group of thespians are having one hell of a time on stage with each other, too. This is a dinner party at which I would be more than happy to be a guest, gun shots or not.

Kudos to director Gail Murphy, who tackles this difficult production (and wrangles what looks like a rowdy group of actors) with aplomb. If you’re expecting high-brow humor or an engaging plot, “Rumors” isn’t for you. Toilet jokes and prat falls abound, and since we never even see the party’s hosts, their travails are moot. That said, “Rumors” supplies, in abundance, fast-paced, quick-witted humor and more laughs than there are seats in the auditorium. This is one of the best “adult” amateur theater productions I’ve seen in years. Don’t miss it!

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunjeff.

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