The master of mirth on stage and screen is still in command of his crown, as was proven once again with the McLean Community Players’ production of Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” continuing through May 4.
“Rumors” start spreading at an upscale New York dinner party, where the host has just tried to commit suicide — and succeeded only in shooting himself through the earlobe. The results prove, as always, that Neil Simon can mine humor from even the stickiest situations.
The first guest to arrive, Chris Gorman (played by Ruth Neaveill) also claimed the first laugh as she growled into the phone, “it’s the doctor!”thus setting the stage for the disenchanted evening to come. Her fellow guest Cookie Cusack (Joan Zeigler) soon helps to bring chaos out of order, by making her chronic attacks of back pain look like the big beheading scene in “The Other Boleyn Girl.”
While the entire cast of 11 keeps the laughs coming, the comic-in-chief is obviously Lenny Ganz (Chuck Dluhy). A veteran MCP performer, he has shown his versatility in productions ranging from the classic American tragedies like “All My Sons” by Arthur Miller, to popular comedies like “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” where he played Snoopy the beagle.
As Lenny, he starts stealing the scenes when he staggers onstage with his head on his shoulder, having suffered a whiplash injury en route to this disastrous dinner. The laughs continue as he tries frantically to tear open a pretzel bag — a struggle which is all too familiar to us all. They grow even louder when Cookie efficiently tears the bag open without a second thought, leaving Lenny in sheer despair. The first act ends with his surefire slapstick staple: falling down the stairs.
In addition to his physical comedy, he also scores with his Simonized one-liners, delivered with the proper punch. Told that the elusive doctor is seated in a theater and not to be disturbed, Lenny roars, “I am not putting my life in the hands of the drama critic for Mount Sinai Hospital.”
But his finest hour — or at least his finest minutes — come at the climax. Evoking both laughter and applause, he disguises himself as the wounded guest to explain his injury in a rambling monologue to the naturally befuddled police officer (Stephen Welch).
Bursting into pidgin Spanish, Lenny explains why he fired his weapon by mistake into his own earlobe, thus chasing the imaginary Hispanic kitchen staff away. Echoing that frantic fantasy, “La Bamba” soars through the theater for a truly grand finale.
The audience’s pleasure is enhanced by the comfortable padded seats, along with the chance to see the art gallery upstairs. However, the Players themselves suggest that the show is not suitable for viewers under age 15, due to the adult language.
Director Rosemary Hartman showed a special enthusiasm for this Neil Simon show. “I have directed a good number of Neil Simon plays over the years, and one of the most appealing things about his plays is that he has the ability to write characters that are flawed. They are not all bad or all good, but the people we know.”
She also sees the fine distinction between Simon’s classic comedies, like “The Sunshine Boys” or “Plaza Suite” (which she has also directed) and a farce like this.
“‘Rumors’ is Simon’s only farce to date,” she said. “Farce permits the actors to perform in a slightly more exaggerated manner than usual, and there is much more wacky physical comedy that you might see in a regular comedy.”
For example, she said, “there is much running up and down stairs, opening and closing of doors “… not to mention fighting against the ferocious pretzel bags.