Great sets, comedy in ‘Rumors’ at MHS

By Gary Clift

Manhattan High’s Performing Arts Department produces an annual series of musicals with huge casts, productions that thousands have enjoyed as audience members. Less well known are the plays the unit stages. And this is too bad. The most fun I’ve had in the Rezac Auditorium I’ve had seeing these song- and dance-free theatricals.

For example, last week Linda Uthoff’s thespians gave us a dandy version of Neil Simon’s late 1980s farce “Rumors.” And it being MHS, the actors were effectively dressed by Peggy Riley. Luke Stramel’s black upholstery and abstract oil-paintings set was one of the best I’ve seen in that theater.

And of course the set included doors. Four downstairs (powder room, front door, locked basement door, and kitchen) and two upstairs on the central balcony, bedroom doors. Farce requires doors.

By the time the curtain rises, early party guests lawyer Ken Gorman (Levi Jones) and Chris Gorman (Kendra Truitt) have already discovered their would-be host, New York City’s Deputy Mayor, with a gunshot wound on an ear lobe. “He’s all right,” Ken asserts. “Its just a powder burn.”

Charlie seems to have taken some drug that has made him inattentive and loose jointed. His wife and the servants are nowhere to be found.

The mystery behind these facts is the McGuffin of the play-the thing at the center of it that we keep seeking. And so do the well-dressed dinner guests. The Gormans are trying to tend Charlie upstairs while they put off relating the potentially embarrassing and perhaps criminal details about their host.

So they let in Lenny (John Dabeck, who had the tone of the play from the beginning) and Katie (Claire Ganz) Dixon, psychologist Ernie (Trevor Bashaw) and good-cooking Cookie (Charlotte Benjamin) Cusack, State Senate candidate Glenn (Ethan Schmidt, who was particularly strong in the second act) and crystal handler Cassie (Macy Lanceta) Cooper, and eventually a couple of cops played by Madeline Wilson and Alex Brase.

All the while ridiculous and contradictory versions of the explanation for obvious facts — there is no one there to cook the dinner, for example-are offered up to sub — groups of the characters. The explanations evolve and get sillier as more people begin trying to add on to cover-up assertions. And both Ken and Lenny imitate a woman’s voice so they can claim their hostess, Myra, is upstairs.

The explanation function of the story gets confused, too, by phone calls, intercom conversations, and the need for private confabs — Cassie is surprised when Claire emerges from the powder room (flushing sounds off) and then Chris does the same.

And then there are the comic stories of each of the arriving couples. Ken is temporarily deafened when Charlie’s gun goes off a second time. Lenny’s new car has been wrecked and he has whiplash. “I can only look up. I hope tall people are coming.” Cassie and Glenn are arguing, and she’s jealous.

Then, too, there are the usual Simon quips and comic situations. The women may recognize each other’s dresses. Did you wear that one to the cerebral palsy fund-raiser? “No, I wore this for sickle cell.” Why can’t Ken stay downstairs? He’s ducking into an upstairs room to use the toilet. “Didn’t you just go?” “Yes but…not enough.”

The Manhattan High production did justice to this mindless but amusing play. What’s that knocking at the door?

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