Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” showing now through Feb. 18 at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre in Carmel, is not the kind of show where you can sit back and just let the humor wash over you. You must sit up and pay attention — or you’ll miss something.
The scene opens on Ken Gorman (Clay Mabbitt) and his wife, Chris (Kim Ruse), who are the first of four couples to arrive at a dinner party celebrating the 10th wedding anniversary of their friends, Charlie and Myra Brock. But instead of a party atmosphere, they find Charlie (the deputy mayor of New York City) upstairs in the bedroom with a gunshot wound to his earlobe with Myra nowhere to be found. As the rest of the couples arrive, each carrying their own set of issues, the Gormans first try to cover up the situation, but eventually, all the guests are involved in determining what happened and how to resolve the issue.
Eight rich people sitting around in a living room talking might not sound like an entertaining evening, but Simon’s dialogue is the star of this show. It is full of witty quips, way-off-topic tangential conversations, jokes that bounce back to something that happened maybe half an hour earlier and allusions to rumor upon rumor.
Without a doubt, the strongest performance of the evening is delivered by New Palestine resident Parrish Williams as Lenny Ganz. Williams demonstrates his understanding of the nature of performance by starting with a low-key delivery. He tries to remain calm and in control of himself and the situation. But as the implications of the event itself and how it might eventually impact them all become clear, he grows louder and more frenetic as the group sense of panic increases. His high-energy and gruff, sarcastic line delivery keeps the show moving forward. The pièce de résistance, however, is Ganz’s monologue, where he — when improbably selected to impersonate Charlie Brock for the benefit of the curious police — delivers an eight-minute monologue, an improvised story to hopefully tie up all loose ends.
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The set design by Ryan Koharchik sets the stage as an elegant upper-middle class home complete with original art. Sound designer Michael J. Lasley’s choice of seating music (the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Africa” by Toto, to name a few) leaves no doubt that we are in the 1980s.
One of the challenges of a play like “Rumors” lies in the development of distinct characters. Director Charles Goad’s cast struggles a bit in creating character distinctions among the four high-strung, type-A males. The women in the cast had better success with placid Cookie (Marni Lemons) easily recognizable in her garish pink dress and Ruse as the very blond Chris Gorman.
A round of applause goes out to the lineless Joe Aiello as policeman Officer Pudney. Aiello, a star in his own right throughout the Indianapolis theater community, delivers the fastest three-second scene steal in history with his “I’m watchin’ you” gesture as he and partner Officer Welch (Joanne Kehoe) leave the house following the interrogation. His facial expressions speak volumes about his opinion of events, and his frenzied note-taking during Ganz’s explanation leaves you wondering which parts of the resulting shaggy-dog story would actually make sense in a police report.
All in all, “Rumors” ranks as one of Neil Simon’s best scripts and one that pops up regularly in the community theater circuit. The Civic’s production is polished, professional and definitely worthy of an evening on the town.