DISTRESSED ASSETS Wealthy doesn't mean wise.
The Brocks' posh house in the suburbs of New York is a study in contrasting eras: Its turn-of-the-century architecture is trimmed with gorgeous wood moldings and banister, with austere green and amber stained glass. Its furnishings, on the other hand, are stark, modernist, and black and white. As people enter the house and proceed to comedically unravel, the set's juxtaposition suggests that there's really no one classic era for farce: It springs eternal, equally at home amid group-therapy telephone conferences, car phones, and Diet Coke as silver-plated Coward-esque cocktail accouterments. In Neil Simon's Rumors, on stage now at Seacoast Repertory Theatre, under the acute direction of Jonathan Carr, farce seizes on an age particularly ripe for self-interested shenanigans: the late 1980s.
When four wealthy couples show up for Charlie and Myra Brock's 10th anniversary party, they find the servants gone, the canapés unmade, wine spritzers difficult to come by, the hostess missing, and the host — none less than the deputy mayor of New York — hidden away upstairs with a bullet wound to the earlobe. As rumors fly — infidelities? attempted suicide? — the guests realize that this potential scandal could be the ruin of any of their high-profile careers. Thus their improvisational, serpentine, and increasingly vodka-addled falsehoods to cops, doctors, and each other.
Cooperation does not come naturally to these folks, but self-preservation does. Type-A married lawyers Chris and Ken Gorman (Lauren Sowa and Christopher Bradley) have the misfortune to show up first, and do the initial damage control — whirlwind, white-knuckled, raillery-laced. They're followed by accountant Len Ganz and his wife Claire (Tobin Moss and Megan Quinn, whose cutting asides are particularly sharp), an acerbic couple already rattled by having had their new BMW totaled on the way over. Next arrive shrilly cheerful cooking show host Cookie Cusack (Carolyn Hause, entertainingly bombastic) and her therapist husband Ernie (Ed Batchelder, endearingly teddy-bearish), who talk to each other using cringe-worthy pet names and generally irritate the hell out of the snarkier other guests. Finally comes Glen Cooper (Gardner Campbell), who's running for state senate, accompanied by his slender, blue-blooded, certifiable bitch of a wife, Cassie (Crystal Korabek, as elegant and lethal as crushed glass in a vodka-on-the-rocks), who is jealous beyond sanity and who compulsively fingers a crystal.
The Rep's cast does sharp work with the intimidating sequences of exposition and of timing — both verbal quips and multiple slamming doors up- and downstairs — that farce demands. They deliver a delicious bounty of arched eyebrows, deadpan zingers, and rich, dripping irony. They also do a superb job of developing these insufferable cosmopolitan types, and particularly fun are their distinct characterizations of the marriages, each its own beast — the Gormans with their overwrought and cultured repartee; the Ganzs' smirks and rolled eyes; the Cusacks' good-natured wackiness; and the Coopers' toxic dysfunction. Equally funny and even more trenchant is how the characters' various careers play into their habits and reactions, especially as the tension mounts: Ken is ever more spastically legalistic; Glen doggedly circumnavigates his own involvement like any good politician; and Ernie's touchy-feely therapeutics devolve into shame at losing his own composure. It's all super work. And a key extended monologue by Moss's Len, which actually transcends the typical accountant's skill set, is alone worth the price of admission.