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‘Rumors’ a farce to be reckoned with

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‘Rumors’ a farce to be reckoned with (photo courtesy UMaine School of Performing Arts/Ron Lisnet)

ORONO – There are a whole lot of doors being slammed and stories being spun on the University of Maine campus, courtesy of a classic Neil Simon farce.

UMaine’s School of Performing Arts is presenting Simon’s “Rumors” at the Cyrus Memorial Pavilion Theater on the Orono campus. Directed by Julie Lisnet, the show runs through Oct. 27.

It seems as though the region has Neil Simon on the brain these days – Ten Bucks Theatre just closed their production of the playwright’s “The Sunshine Boys” – but there’s a reason for that: he’s funny. His work is charming and clever and accessible, a perfect fit for just about any company. “Rumors” is a great example of that; it’s not top-tier in terms of Simon’s most well-known work, but it’s just a tick below.

And again – it’s VERY funny.

Ken (Devin Daigneault) and Chris (Angelina Buzzelli) Gorman have just arrived at the home of their good friends Charlie and Myra Brock. They are the first to arrive for a party celebrating the Brocks’ 10-year wedding anniversary. But what they find is something for which they are entirely unprepared.

It seems as though Charlie has been shot through the ear (self-inflicted, it appears) and Myra is nowhere to be found. Ken – being Charlie’s lawyer as well as his best friend – hopes to help Charlie (who is the deputy mayor of New York) avoid scandal, and so seeks to keep everyone else in the dark.

But when the rest of the guests begin to arrive, that proves easier said than done.

First to show are Claire (Katie Dube) and Lenny (Josh Flanagan) Ganz. They’re already shaken, thanks to a car accident that did significant damage to their brand-new BMW and left them both injured – Claire with a fat lip and Lenny with a bad case of whiplash. Next up are cooking show host Cookie Cusack (Anna Giroux) and her analyst husband Ernie (Connor Bolduc), while the final pair of guests to arrive are aspiring state senator Glenn Cooper (Peter Natali) and his new age-y wife Cassie (Aja Sobus).

As each new pair arrives, the chaos grows – as does the mystery. Ken and Chris are doing their best to figure out what happened to Charlie and Myra (with relatively little success) while also keeping the situation secret from the new arrivals (with even less success). People rush in and out and up and down, all of them seeking answers to questions they may or may not even know are being asked.

And when the cops show up, well … then it gets WEIRD.

It’s interesting to see “Rumors” being produced on a college campus. It has long been a favorite of community groups – Bangor Community Theatre did a production about a decade ago, and Ten Bucks Theatre did one about a decade before that (I myself was actually in that TBT production). It’s a great fit for an academic production – the characters are young enough for college kids to reasonably play and there’s a lot of fun, farcical elements that can be wonderfully educational for student actors.

But don’t let the light and airy nature of “Rumors” fool you – doing this sort of show might seem easy, but the truth is more complicated than that. That is, doing it may be easy, but doing it WELL is surprisingly difficult. Maintaining a grounded sense of storytelling while generating the kind of frenetic energy needed to power a farce like this is hard work that requires a tight, engaged ensemble.

Lisnet has assembled just such an ensemble here; there’s a vivacity to this cast that suits the material to a T. Daigneault finds a nice balance of competence and exasperation as Ken, while Buzzelli captures the tightly-wound nature of Chris. Flanagan’s Lenny is a font of snide wise-assery; Dube’s finger-wagging certitude and gossipy weakness as Claire match his energy nicely. Giroux lends a nice spaciness to her portrayal of Cookie; Bolduc does a nice job of simultaneously coming off as the smartest and most clueless guy in the room. Natali leans into Glenn’s self-seriousness and inflated idea of his own importance. And Sobus is equal parts shrill suspicion and hippy-dippy nuttiness. Rowan Jellison and Minwin Fitzgerald round out the cast as the police officers who turn up for reasons that you’re better off learning for yourself.

There are a LOT of moving parts in a show like “Rumors.” And those parts need to maintain an almost perpetual motion in order to amp up the franticness to the required degree. Lisnet is a veteran director gifted with an inherent understanding of comedic timing; she has clearly put this cast through their paces, with a constant sense of motion on the stage. It’s a delicate dance, one that needs to be meticulously orchestrated; Lisnet has steered the ship true.

Harnessing the funkiness of the Pavilion Theatre can be challenging; it’s a unique playing space that demands a lot of designers. Katie Keaton has created a set that is both compact and extremely functional; she has jammed A LOT of doors into a relatively small space. It’s a great look that takes full advantage of all available space. Dan Bilodeau’s lighting design also makes a lot out of a little, finding ways to use light to both define and expand the sense of space. Sophie Crockett-Current’s costumes capture the youthful affluence of the characters; Karissa Cooper’s sound design fits the space neatly as well.

There’s nothing quite like the energy produced by academic theatre; “Rumors” is a wonderful outlet for that energy. Truly, this production is a farce to be reckoned with.

Last modified on Tuesday, 22 October 2019 09:35

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