In a telephone call to Ernie, who is downstairs in a formal black suit, Charlie, who is upstairs in pajamas, announces that he has gone temporarily blind.
But that comes later and isn’t exactly true. Actually, Charlie is in his bedroom, bleeding all over the rug from a gunshot hole in his left earlobe made when he tried to shoot himself in the head. It is Charlie and his wife Myra’s tenth anniversary and they have invited four couples to their home in Sneden’s Landing, New York, to help them celebrate.
But the first couple, Ken and Chris Gorman (Fox Carney and Debi Tinsley) have arrived to find that the host is upstairs in bed and the hostess is nowhere to be seen. And neither are the hired cooks and servers.
Ken and Chris, bewildered, search the house for the hosts, all the while making up stories about where they might have gone.
Then Claire and Lenny Ganz (Cheryl Crosland and Kent Butler) arrive and Ken tells them what he thinks has happened to the host and hostess and urges them not to tell the other guests. And when the doctor calls, Ken provides a fabricated story that his wife Chris relays in fits and starts to the doctor.
With this mystery and assorted fabricated stories Neil Simon’s play “Rumors” begins. And when the other guests Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Todd Andrew Ball and Alyson York) and Ernie and Cookie Cusack (Doug Haverty and Michele Bernath) arrive, the assemblage begins to fabricate explanations that justify the name of the play.
The rumors include ones from Claire, who announces “Charlie’s been having a hot affair,” “Charlie’s running up a hell of a hotel bill!” and “This night is beginning to remind me of Dunkirk.” And to her husband Lenny, “I told all our friends that you and I are breaking up.” To which Lenny replies, “Don’t talk for a while.”
Even though he promised not to tell the guests about the shooting, Lenny tells them as soon as they have all arrived “Charlie’s been shot…” and then, adding his own opinion, he says, “Myra didn’t shoot him.”
At one point Chris Gorman, who has been frazzled all evening, wails to Claire, “I’m coming apart at the seams!”
“Your dress?” Claire asks.
“No, my nerves,” Chris responds.
Meanwhile, Ken has been running upstairs to check on Charlie, who is sleeping soundly, and downstairs to the others to tell them again that Charlie has shot himself in the head, and the company discusses the possibility that it was a suicide attempt.
With all the running back and forth and up and down, all the hectic (and funny) conversations, the group suddenly realizes that they haven’t had anything to eat. They’ve had lots to drink, but no food.
As a solution, Claire suggests that they all pitch in to make the dinner. The group notes that Claire is not physically able to perform such tasks, to which she responds, “I can do everything but sit down and get up.” She then has a spasm, and attempting to get up from the sofa she falls down, rolls over, gets on her knees and circles the room on all fours, and ends up going through a doorway into the kitchen.
There is a second inexplicable gunshot and Ken shouts that he can’t hear and begins responding to everything with a comment that is totally irrelevant, as Lenny notes, “Ken is reading lips now.”
Claire emerges from the kitchen to announce that she has dropped aspirin in the spaghetti sauce and Ernie remarks “I like the way we were instead of the way we are.” And the act ends with everybody shouting.
In the second act, Ernie suggests they should make up a story that everyone can agree on about why they are there, where the host and hostess are, and the two gunshots.
While they are constructing a story, two policepersons arrive to ask them about a BMW that had been stolen, and the group gets up to dance before opening the door. In response to the questions of Officers Welch and Purdy (Robert McCollum and Judy Rosenfeld), Glen accidentally mentions the gunshots they’d heard. This brings on another barrage of questions from the officers while Lenny rushes upstairs, puts on Charlie’s bathrobe, and returns grandly downstairs to introduce himself as Charlie and weave a tale that goes on for nearly five minutes, covering everything that has happened that night. And many other made-up adventures that he has added to the story. Officer Welch says he doesn’t believe the story, but it was so fanciful that he accepts it and the police leave. And the play ends with a twist that only Neil Simon could invent.
“Rumors” is directed by Doug Engalla and is a play from Simon’s vast output of successes that began with “Come Blow Your Horn” in 1961, and continued with“Barefoot in the Park”, ”Sweet Charity”’, “Plaza Suite”, “The Sunshine Boys”, ”Brighton Beach Memoirs”, “Laughter on the 23rd Floor” in addition to Tony winners “The Odd Couple”, “Biloxi Blues” and “Lost in Yonkers (which also won a Pulitzer Prize). He also wrote screenplays, and TV scripts for “Your Show of Shows” and “Caesar’s Hour”, among others.
So far he has won 3 Tonys and been nominated 17 times. He also won a Special Tony for his contribution to theatre, 2 Golden Globes, 2 Emmys and in 1989 the American Comedy Award for Lifetime Achievement. In 1995 he was a Kennedy Center Honoree. And in 1966 he had four plays (Sweet Charity, The Star-Spangled Girl, The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park) playing simultaneously in theaters on Broadway. In 1983 the Alvin Theatre was renamed the Neil Simon Theatre and in that same year, he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.
“Rumors” is not one of his most spectacular plays, though it’s his first farce, written in 1988. But it’s funny and fast-paced. Lots of talk, but no music.
Perhaps it would have been better if Simon had collaborated with Garfunkel.
“Rumors” will continue Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2 through August 11th at the Lonny Chapman Theatre,
10900 Burbank Blvd. in North Hollywood. Buy tickets at www.thegrouprep.com or call (818)763-5990.