Farce is not the most widely performed of theatrical styles, and when it is, it is rarely done well. With that in mind, I came into City Theatre’s latest production of Neil Simon’s Rumors with a certain trepidation. I knew that director Andy Berkovsky could do amazing things with most pieces, but how he would handle a light farce was still unknown, but luckily, as the play took off, all worries were assuaged. City Theatre’s Rumors is a pleasant farce with just enough edge to keep the current generation interested, while injecting enough old school class to keep the old-school theatre fans smiling.
As the play begins, things are going terribly wrong at the anniversary party of New York City Deputy Mayor Charlie Brock and his wife. The first guests, Ken and Chris, arrive only to discover that Charlie has shot himself in the earlobe, and his wife is nowhere to be found, leaving Ken and Chris to pick up the pieces. As more and more guests arrive, Ken and Chris, and the wacky cast of characters that are the other guests, are forced to come up with more and more ludicrous explanations for the madcap hijinks which occur throughout the night, stemming from Charlie’s accident. When the police arrive near the end of the night, things go from bad to worse as the whole party is thrown into a tizzy over just how to explain all the crazy situations that occur during the evening’s proceedings.
With an ensemble as large as this, it’s hard to point out every piece of good acting, but there were a few major standouts amongst the cast. Scot Friedmen is currently a star on the rise, grabbing a best acting nomination at last year’s ATE awards, and here he shows a real talent for sarcastic repartee in his performance as Lenny. He, along with his partner, the quite talented Wendy Zavaleta, don’t start out with a bang, but grow to be one of the funniest forces in the piece. Friedman hits his height, however, near play’s end, when he gives one of the funniest monologues you’re likely to hear this year. Also shining is Tony Salinas as Ernie, who may not be a well-known face in the Austin scene, but who shows a remarkable talent for slapstick. His physical comedy creates some truly hilarious moments, and his voice and stature seem tailor-made for this kind of performance.
Though many of the individual performances are quite funny, the true hilarity kicks in when all these very different characters begin to interact with one another. Confused identities, injuries, coverups, and flawed seductions all create an atmosphere of pure levity, bringing a laugh about every minute. Each of the characters brings something refreshing to the mix, with the whole ensemble creating a diamond with a thousand different glittering facets, each fascinating to view on their own, but coming together to create something truly remarkable.
Whether this is your first Simon play, or if you’re a Neil Simon expert, there’s a lot to love about City Theatre’s production. It’s the most legimately funny thing to grace its stages in years, with a cast that surprises early and often. True farce is at times hard to come by in Austin, especially good farce, making City Theatre’s Rumors a show to remember.
Next up at City Theatre is William Gibson’s The Miracle Worker, running from October 28th through November 20th. For more information visit City Theatre’s site at citytheatreaustin.org