In an intellectual living room, you dress in deep reds and creams, never lack alcohol, and are privy to wealth, mystery, gossip, wit, pretension, and Rumors, lots and lots of Rumors. This is the world of Rumors – a comedy by Neil Simon that opened on Thursday, October 7 at Theatre Intime.

Throwing the audience into the action immediately, the play presents a frantic couple, Chris and Ken Gorman, at the house of their friends, Charlie, the Deputy Mayor of New York City, and his wife Myra, for a party celebrating Charlie and Myra’s 10th Wedding Anniversary. Shots go off as they enter the house, and they find a passed-out Charlie missing the lobe of his left ear, no Myra and no maid, and unattended food left in the kitchen.

As more couples arrive- one an investment banker and his dryly humorous wife, one an analyst and a naïve cooking-show-star, one a hopeful politico and his paranoid wife- Chris and Ken mediate between attending to Charlie upstairs and tending to the guests, and then vacillate between telling their friends and keeping the secret until they know exactly what unfolded with the anniversary couple. Everyone eventually discovers that something has gone awry, but in the process, hands are burned, ears go temporarily deaf, witticisms are exchanged, Charlie and Myra never appear on stage, and by God, alcohol is consumed.

When the police show up near the end to investigate a hit-and-run, things go to hell as everyone attempts to fabricate a story and to cover up what he or she doesn’t know. After an elaborate ruse by the investment banker, Lenny, who impersonates Charlie and concocts a story as to what exactly happened with the whole shooting-and-missing-wife, the play ends by dually turning everything and nothing upside down, and by answering every question and no questions at all.

Yes, those were terribly confused and convoluted sentences.

But that is just what a review of Rumors mandates. As the story deepens, more gossip is exchanged, more untruths arise, and more layers build up.

It is the politics of telling a lie.

And the consequences of that lie.

And the consequences of the consequences of that lie.

The more and more one creates, the more shit piles up. And it’s hilarious.

Rumors is a slapstick comedy. Gesticulations are gross. Expressions are exaggerated. Overtures are over the top. Occasionally, everyone falls to the ground in unison. It is a very artificial form of comedy, meant to parallel the wealthy, synthetic social circle in which these characters function, one that leads to the elaborate subterfuge surrounding Charlie and Myra’s obvious troubles. But its slapstick should not overshadow an equal intellectualism. With references ranging from psychobabble to Hitler to tennis clubs, one must not discount Rumors’ sophistication. This wit, however, does not save the slapstick from becoming trying and tedious. By the end of the play, you’re exhausted by the hyperbole of everything. And maybe you’re meant to be, to experience the fatigue of the characters trapped in their webs of intrigue. But it is not a welcome exhaustion.

Whatever the minor inconsistencies of the play, they are not the faults of the cast, who pull off a very professional and, for the most part, engaging show. Don’t expect a cast of empathetic characters; be thankful for the idiosyncratic and eccentric ones you get instead. Be prepared for Blythe Haaga’s Cassie, maniacally obsessed with a piece of crystal; Jon Ryan’s Lenny, whose lively monologue at the close seems imbued with a gleeful sense of simultaneous destruction and construction; and Sherry Rujikarn’s wonderfully cynical Claire, to name a few. This is a cast that successfully maintains the mystery and keeps you on your toes.

Savor these Rumors, but take them with a grain of salt.

Rumors is playing at Theatre Intime Oct. 14-16.

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