Arts and Entertainment

'Rumors': It doesn’t get better than this

Top photo, Lenny and Claire Ganz (George Iliff and Juliet Flint) check to see who is arriving as the situation gets more complicated for Ken Gorman (Bo Turnage), in “Rumors,” Neil Simon’s play directed by Andrew V. McLaglen at the San Juan Community Theatre. Bottom photo, Cassie Cooper (Natalie King) pays attention to her magic amulet while her husband, state Senate candidate Glenn Cooper (Dorian Oliver), argues with Ernie Cusack (Warren Baehr) about the ethics of coverup. - Top photo: Richard Walker. Bottom photo: Howard Schonberger
Top photo, Lenny and Claire Ganz (George Iliff and Juliet Flint) check to see who is arriving as the situation gets more complicated for Ken Gorman (Bo Turnage), in “Rumors,” Neil Simon’s play directed by Andrew V. McLaglen at the San Juan Community Theatre. Bottom photo, Cassie Cooper (Natalie King) pays attention to her magic amulet while her husband, state Senate candidate Glenn Cooper (Dorian Oliver), argues with Ernie Cusack (Warren Baehr) about the ethics of coverup.
— image credit: Top photo: Richard Walker. Bottom photo: Howard Schonberger

Some things in this life can be disappointing. The market. The weather. Your aching back.

Forget it.

If you go to a performance of a play directed by Andrew McLaglen, written by Neil Simon and performed by our local thespians at our beautiful theater, you can be sure you won’t have a gloomy thought.

That’s how the farce “Rumors” affected a sizable audience (including 34 from off-island*) Friday night at our San Juan Community Theatre.

One of Simon’s best plays (he’s done more than 35 shows), it doesn’t have the realism of “Biloxi Blues,” “Barefoot in the Park” or “The Odd Couple” ... it’s just a two-act hour-and-a-half of raw comedy at its best.

Each of the characters, facing a mysterious situation at an anniversary party, is a well-defined individual from the git-go in this hilarious mix.

It starts with beautifully-gowned Chris Gorman (Jandira Shelley), a nervous wreck trying to break away from smoking cigarettes as her husband Ken (Bo Turnage) tries to determine what caused a sound like a gunshot upstairs.

He emerges from the bedroom almost incoherent, with blood on his white silk tuxedo shirt front, telling his wife not to call anyone because he has to tend to the bleeding host-celebrant. As the host’s attorney, his convoluted alibis for what happens are a work of art.

The next couple, also formally dressed, are Lenny Ganz (George Iliff) and Claire (Juliet Flint), who gradually extracts some of the situation facts when they learn that the host (the deputy mayor of New York) is OK, but his hostess wife is missing. The affluent guests naturally want no part of the police, which might cause a scandal, not unheard of in New York politics to this very day.

Iliff was outstanding in this show ... the consummate pro of our island stage. He gives an example of public relations spin to the police that would put Karl Rove to shame.

Ernie Cusack (Warren Baehr), an absolute gem in the role of a psychiatrist, is the next arrival. His wife Cookie (Sandy Killion), who has a cooking show on TV — as well as a bad case of sciatica — accepts the other guests’ explanations of why there are no cooks, maids or butlers and that the party will be a do-it-yourself meal ... a new idea for parties. She volunteers to do the meal of a lifetime with the duck and other goodies left in the kitchen. Her gown doesn’t equal the others, being a 60-year-old outfit her grandmother left her, but she felt it fit the occasion.

Last, but by no means least, are two of the best performers yet: Glenn Cooper (Dorian Oliver) and his wife Cassie (Natalie King). He is absorbed in his race for a state Senate seat.

His wife is enchanted by two things: herself and a magical crystal charm. When she makes her entrance in that dazzling gown, it is a show-stopper! Her performance as a wife who doesn’t trust her husband, and is only in a good mood when she has her special crystal, was one of the greatest climate changes you’ll ever see. King goes from ice cold shrew to steamy warm pussycat when she touches her magical amulet.

This show’s laughs are non-stop. It’s doubtful if you can absorb all the humor in one attendance. One of the best parts of the sneak preview was when Baehr the psychiatrist goes raving psycho, shouting at Oliver when he realizes with all his behavioral perception he was completely taken in. They look at each other and both lose it for a few seconds. It reminded me of some of the live TV skits with Jack Benny and Sid Caesar, when the gags and delivery were so perfect that they couldn’t keep a straight face.

When Sid Caesar had his Show of Shows on TV years ago, he had three talented writers — Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Simon — doing those skits. Believe me, they never did anything combined that was funnier or better cast than this two-act show of the McLaglen-led crew on stage this month. Even the two cops were completely credible (of course, Bill Waxman’s 25-year career as a police lieutenant gave him an advantage, but Chuck Harwood’s delivery was a vital part of the conclusion ... whatever one decides that could be).

Kudos to director McLaglen; Margaret Hall, assistant director (special bravos); Jane Maxwell Campbell and Melody Rice, stage managers (Rice also did hair and make-up); Pete Dawson, assistant stage manager; Don McLaskey, set and lighting designer; Charlie O’Neil, set props; Carol Smith, assistant set dresser; Ted Soares, hand props; Pam Nichols, costume designer extraordinaire; Dodie Swift Taylor, costume assistant; Lyne McPherson, scenic artist; Mike Killion, Rob Raney, Craig Green, Tom Donnelly, Bish Wheeler, Paul Barger, Skip Kimble, set builders; Mary Ellen Sable, Beth Hungerford, Campbell, Wheeler and Barger, set painters; Patti Bair, light and sound operator; and John Soderberg, sound editor.

* We attended a great show the week before on Orcas, sold out, with lines waiting for unclaimed will-call tickets. They had a big number of off-islanders there also. It’s so gratifying to see former islanders like Bill and Joanne Gesswein coming all the way from Mesa, Ariz. and saying this show “Rumors” was worth the trip.

Don’t miss it guys. It doesn’t get better than this.

— Contact Howard Schonberger at 378-5696 or hschonberger@sanjuanjournal.com

What others are saying about 'Rumors'
So you want to blame the Wall Street fat cats or the Democrats or the Republicans for the current mess in your portfolio?

Forget it and escape to the San Juan Community Theatre to see “Rumors”!

I saw the preview performance and laughed till it hurt. A total farce with some almost normal characters.

Andrew V. McLaglen has directed another wonderful way to leave all your cares aside. Discover for yourself how upper-crust Easterners can be even wackier than those of us in the Northwest.

It runs though Oct. 18. Don’t miss this. It is a winner!

— Bill Lembeck, Cape San Juan

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