Chicago Theatre Review
Timing is Everything
Rumors – BrightSide Theatre
Continuing in their 4th season devoted to celebrating friends and family, this little Naperville gem brings audiences another comedy by America’s best-known playwright, Neil Simon. In this, the only farce among his many other fast-paced comedies, Simon’s broadly-played comedy depicts a group of stylish, upper-middle class couples acting badly. Motivated by the kind of gossip everyone delights in learning and spreading, as well as the lies and diversions people provide one another, this play becomes a nonstop laugh fest as friends gather for a party that never happens.
Husband and wife Ken and Chris Gorman are the first guests to arrive at the plush townhouse of Charlie and Myra. The couple is supposed to be throwing a lavish party celebrating their ten year anniversary. However, as the play opens, Ken and his wife Chris are frantically running up and down the stairs to Charlie’s bedroom trying to remedy an unanticipated situation. Charlie, who happens to be the Deputy Mayor of New York City, seems to have forgotten his party and attempted suicide instead. However, instead of succeeding, Charlie’s lying upstairs bleeding from his earlobe. His wife Myra has mysteriously disappeared, the hired help have vanished and the absence of drinks, food or any festivities squelch the idea that a party was ever planned.
Other guests begin arriving, including lawyer-to-the-stars Lenny Ganz and his urbane wife Claire; therapist Ernie Cusack and his food channel celebrity wife, Cookie; and Glenn Cooper, a young politician running for the State Senate, along with his arguing, jealous wife Cassie. In order to protect the reputations of Charlie and Myra, Ken and Chris try to keep this drama from their friends. However, as each guest arrives, more gunshots are heard, stories and lies start to contradict one another and rumors begin flying out of control. The next two hours become a marathon of fast talking and fevered racing in and out of doors and running up and down the stairs…all gussied up in evening gowns and tuxedos.
Guest director Aaron Henrickson, whose work has been seen around the greater Chicago area, directs this talented cast with a firm hand, demonstrating he knows how to stage physical humor. Simon’s play is entertaining yet purposely exaggerated and improbable. It requires a playground that allows the cast to run rampant. The sparse living room setting, smartly and tastefully designed by Jarrod Bainter, is simple and uncluttered and provides a sizable arena for working this play’s loony magic. However, a few minor difficulties occur in this production which will undoubtedly be ironed out, in time.
By using the theatre’s two aisles as hallways to the kitchen and the outside door, some of the humor suffers. The comic timing, which is so important in farce, sometimes gets thrown off kilter because of the distance the actors have to travel down these passageways. At other times, the gatling gun dialogue is wonderful. Henrickson keeps it fast and furious, which is exactly what farce demands, and the result is exciting and funny. Suddenly, the rhythm inexplicably stops. For a split second the humor wavers. Then, just as suddenly, the pacing resumes once more. The timing and rhythm continue to rev up and we’re back on track again. Undoubtedly with a few more performances under their belt, this skilled cast will learn how to deal with the audience’s laughter, which is almost nonstop, and keep that important comic rhythm flowing.
Each actor in this cast of ten brings his A-game to this production. Dialogue is fast-paced, yet perfectly understandable. Intentions are clear, the comedy is played broadly and each character is distinct. Julie Ann Kornak is delightfully uncontrolled and crazy as Chris Gorman. Sophisticated and gorgeous in a midnight blue gown, Ms. Kornak belies her stylish front with her athleticism and buffoonery that Carol Burnett would applaud. She’s matched move-for-move by Dennis Schnell as her husband, Ken. Picture a young Don Rickles, running up and down the stairs shouting orders, making up story after story, and you have Mr. Schnell. Although when Ken suddenly becomes hard of hearing after a gun is fired near his ears, Mr Schnell’s bellowing voice becomes grating after a while. The always classy Mary K. Nigohosian, so wonderfully funny in BrightSide Theatre’s “The Dinner Party,” is ravishing and hilarious as Claire Ganz. Costumed in a lovely sequined gown, with matching pumps, Ms. Nigohosian is stunning and a Cosmopolitan of fun. Tony Lage, who sports an impressive resume of theatrical accomplishments, turns in the starring performance of this production as Lenny Gantz. His firm control over the physical humor and his rapid-fire dialogue are all impressive. He makes a great team with Ms. Nigohosian but his standout performance is the one to watch.
Lisa Braatz is delightfully befuddled as Cookie, the queen of the kitchen, and Gary Charles Metz is very funny as her calm, controlling analyst husband, Ernie. Both are delightfully off-kilter, as the need arises, and champions of the unexpected situation and dialogue. Handsome Evan Michalic is sensational as the politically aspiring Glenn Cooper. His boyish swagger and charm is equally smooth and studied, reminiscent of a young Bill Clinton. Jenna Payne, who plays his jealous harpy of a wife Cassie, makes even wounded martyrdom look chic. Her obsession with crystals is particularly funny but not all that unrealistic. Ellen Daschler as Officer Pudney and, especially, Elliott Plowman as Officer Welch (a kind of Chris Farley-like character) are both excellent, hilarious and add much to the last scene of this comedy.
Timing being everything, especially with comedy, this production is an excellent example of how to do comedy well. Another performance or two should raise this cast right to the top of its form. The timing is also perfect, with Spring finally approaching, for producing this nearly forgotten farce. Neil Simon comedies demand special attention to detail and director Aaron Henrickson understands this. His cast is uniformly excellent, his technical support, especially Jeanine Fry’s fashionable costumes and Jarrod Bainter’s sleek, stylish set, are all right on the money. This is another brightly-colored feather for BrightSide Theatre’s cap and is an indication of even more wonderful productions in the near future.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented March 6-March 22 by BrightSide Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall at North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth Ave., Naperville, IL.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 630-637-7469 or by going to www.brightsidetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.