University Theatre at N.C. State’s encore presentation of Rumors, the season-opener of TheatreFest 2006: “Best of the Fest,” is an entertaining Neil Simon comedy performed by a mostly college-age cast under the direction of NCSU faculty member Terri C. Janney. It is just not quite the laff riot that it could be with a company of seasoned farceurs pushing all the right comic buttons and rushing about the stage and slamming all the right doors on cue.
Director Terri Janney’s attempts to whip this comic soufflé into a pièce de résistance are only partially successful. There are lots of laughs — and the show received a partial standing ovation at the final curtain — but this rendition of Rumors is missing that special something that would make it a comedy for the ages.
Will Sanders and Meisha Gourley are amusing as Ken and Chris Gorman, a pair of attorneys who are the first to arrive at the party to celebrate Charlie and Myra Brock’s ill-fated 10th wedding anniversary. When they enter the Brocks’ posh Sneed’s Landing home, the Gormans discover that Myra and the Brock servants are missing, and Charlie is lying bleeding and incoherent in the master bedroom, where he has shot himself in an apparent suicide attempt.
Lacking any explanation for Charlie’s actions and the absence of Myra and the servants, Ken Gorman begins to make up a cover story to protect his client and best friend. Three other couples arrive to find their host incapacitated and incommunicado and their hostess and the help missing. Soon, all eight guests are desperately concocting lies to cover up the strange situation. But these falsehoods are put to the test when a pair of police officers (Curtis Kirkhoff and Meghan Witzke) arrive to investigate an auto accident.
Sanders is a little too excitable as Ken Gorman, and Gourley is a bit too tipsy as Chris Gorman, but Witzke and especially Kirkhoff make the most of their comic cameos as curious cops. Chad Goudy and Marriette Booth are hilarious as Lenny and Claire Ganz, a high-strung accountant and his increasingly wide-eyed wife; Byron Jennings II and Aimee Henderson are very funny as Ernie and Cookie Cusack, a stuffy psychoanalyst and his zany (and oddly dressed) wife, who hosts her own cooking show between bouts of incapacitating back spasms; and Joel Horton and Jessie Stewart play Glenn and Cassie Cooper, a philandering state senate candidate and his increasingly suspicious wife, with verve. But more nuance is needed in all of this show’s comic characterizations to make these eccentric characters fully three-dimensional and exploit their comic tics to their full potential.
The striking array of formal wear by costume designer Lisa Tireman is wholly appropriate for this swanky black-tie affair, and the handsome six-door set by John C. McIlwee is good overall. But too many steep steps to reach the upstairs bedrooms slow the momentum in a production that cannot afford to have its comic train derailed even for a moment.
University Theatre at N.C. State presents Rumors Friday-Saturday, May 26-27, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, May 28, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday, May 31, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, June 3, at 8 p.m.; Wednesday, June 7, at 8 p.m.; and Friday, June 9, at 8 p.m. in Thompson Theatre, corner of Dunn Ave. and Jensen Dr., Raleigh, North Carolina $14-$16 ($6 NCSU students and $12-$14 senior citizens, students, NCSU faculty, staff, and alumni). 919/515-1100 or via purchase.tickets.com or PDF order form at the presenter's site. University Theatre at N.C. State: http://www.fis.ncsu.edu/University_Players/theatrefest/index.html [inactive 7/06]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=7675. Neil Simon (Unofficial Home Page): http://www.msu.edu/~pelowsk1/neilsimon/ [inactive 1/08].