PHYSICAL COMEDY City Theater’s Rumors. | Photo by Audra Hatch
Throw a bunch of moneyed New York City couples in formal attire into a large home upstate, take away the help, and add a mutually damaging secret and a lot of wild speculation: You have the makings of good old American farce. It’s Rumors, Neil Simon’s merrily middlebrow comedy of lack-of-manners, and it receives a gleefully, sometimes deafeningly rambunctious community theater production at the City Theater, in Biddeford, under the direction of Linda Sturdivant.
Chris Gorman (Rebecca Rinaldi) and her husband Ken (Karl Carrigan) show up first at Charlie and Myra Brock’s handsome house (a fine set of tall, expensively framed windows, high, creamy walls, and rich-looking art) in Sneden’s Landing. But Myra, it seems, is missing, and Charlie is lying low in bed upstairs with a bullet hole through his ear. Being lawyers, Chris and Ken realize that this will not be good for any of the other guests to be associated with if it is, as they strongly suspect, a socially awkward suicide attempt.
And so the shenanigans of Rumors begin, as the other guests arrive: Claire Gantz (Rebecca Cole) and her husband Len (Jaimie Schwartz) have just been side-swiped in their brand-new BMW on the drive over. Then comes cooking-show star Cookie Cusak (Gretchen G. Wood), audibly suffering from back spasms, with her therapist husband Ernie (Tad Williams). Finally, Glenn Cooper (Rick Kusturin), who is running for state senate, arrives late and bickering with his bitter, jealous wife Cassie (Cate DeMeule). Between improvising lies, sniping at spouses, and gossiping about folks at the tennis club, the four couples are in for an eventful evening.
Suspend your disbelief at the door! Simon’s script is over-the-top madcap, and City Theater’s energetic cast follows suit with raucous, hammy histrionics on stage. Carrigan’s Ken has big, antic physical comedy from the get-go, and Rinaldi gives Chris plenty of flouncy drama in her anxiety over the state of her hosts. Schwartz’s Lenny, perhaps the most calculating and the most easily affronted of the guests, is perfectly smarmy and abrasive, grimacing and often belittling his wife Claire, who in Cole’s hands has a refreshing matter-of-factness.
Wood’s Cookie is kookily no-nonsense, with a big, sturdy smile and stride (and a lovely 1920s-style dress), and an appropriately syrupy cuteness with her earnest, socially-awkward Ernie. Finally, the Coopers pose quite a toxic marital contrast, with DeMeule’s ceaselessly hostile Cassie, who visibly relishes the strife she stokes, and her hapless older Glenn, who in Kusturin’s hands has an endearingly straight-man confusion and exasperation with both his wife and the goings-on here in Sneden’s Landing.
As the plot riles up, all guests are operating at a fever pitch of volume and vexation. Though, really, the pitch has been fevered from the very first moments of Chris and Ken shouting up and down the stairs to each other. If anything, the cast members might start things off a little lower, to give themselves a more luxurious journey as they heighten the juvenility, pettiness, and general bad behavior of the farce.
And how exactly is an American farce different from a British one?, I wondered aloud during intermission. Less sex and death, my companion offered. Fewer syllables, I added. Indeed, Simon’s script revels in variations on loudness (shrieking, yelling, groaning), profanity, and low, dull blows (“I take comfort in the fact that she will one day get old, and die”).