Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rumors at TLT

Farce from the madding crowd
by Michael Dresdner
L to R: Jess Allen, Mark Peterson, Jeffery Swiney-Weaver, Matt Garry, Houston White.  Photos by Dennis K Photography

Tacoma Little Theatre opened its 99th season last night with Rumors, a genuinely hilarious farce from the redoubtable Neil Simon. Director Erin Manza Chanfrau assembled an outstandingly talented ensemble cast of largely experienced local actors to create a fast-paced farce layered thickly with both physical and verbal comedy. Think of it as several great episodes of a silly sitcom all stacked and interwoven into a two hour romp.

As is often the case with such properties, there is less of a plot than a series of set-ups designed for maximum laughs. The gist of act I is a collection of well-heeled, highly educated friends coming to a party that has obviously gone south before it started, hosted at the elegant home of the deputy mayor and his wife, neither of whom we ever see on stage.
L to R: Jill Heinecke, Matt Garry

The first to arrive are a pair of lawyers. Clair Gorman (Jess Allan) is an overwrought recently-quit smoker who is dying for a cigarette, and hubby Ken (Mark Peterson) who is upstairs trying to make sense of, and keep a lid on, the fact that they arrived to a sumptuous home with no food prepared, the deputy mayor in his room with a (minor) gunshot wound, and both his wife and the staff missing. Soon Lenny (Matt Garry) and wife Claire (Jill Heinecke) arrive having been in an accident with his brand new BMW on the way, and add to the confusion.
L to R: Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson, Jeffery Swiney-Weaver

Next up, Ernie Cusak (Jeffery Swiney-Weaver), a psychiatrist, and his wife Cookie (Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson), a TV cooking show host, add their mishegas to the mix. By now a second mostly harmless gunshot has rendered Ken Gormann temporarily deaf, so that he misunderstands pretty much everything that is said, adding another layer of misunderstanding to the already overflowing tomfoolery.  Finally, Glenn Cooper (Houston White), who is running for the State Senate and is understandably nervous about being involved in anything that the press could exploit, arrives with his wife Cassie (Kristen Blegen Bouyer), an elegant, new-age crystal-loving woman of somewhat spongy sexual ethics. As utter pandemonium reigns, TV host Cookie, in spite of her repeated debilitating back spasms, manages to make everyone an excellent dinner by the end of act I.
L to R: Kristen Blegen Bouter, Houston White 

By the time act II opens, Glen and Cassie have devolved into a fight just outside the house when the police arrive. Two cops (Neicie Packer and Andy Bravo) come to investigate both the car accident and the two gunshots. They get an assortment of obvious lies and cover-ups from everyone, capped off by a long, convoluted, hysterical nosebleed of a story from Lenny (posing as the host) “explaining” everything. Eventually the police give up, leaving us to hear just one more surprise from the addled and exhausted cast of characters.
L to R: Matt Garry, Andy Bravo, Neicie Packer, Shelleigh-Mairi Ferguson

I know I’ve said this before in reviews, but this play, while completely engaging and full of rapid fire comedy, could benefit from some nuance. Let’s just say there’s a bit too much volume and angst for the number of players on stage.  

An absolutely gorgeous Mondrian-influenced set, the elegant home of the hosts, was designed by Blake York, and is worth staring at all on its own. It was magnificent, from the glass corner wall to the outside to the fabulous built in bar. Costumes by Michele Graves were excellent, as was hair, make-up, and props by cast member Jeffery Weaver (Ernie Cusak, the doctor.)  Spot-on set painting by Ana Bury and sound design (kudos for the superp “other side” of the cop’s walkie talkie conversation) by Chris Serface and lighting by Niclas Olson rounded out the production. Because they did such a great job, a special nod to the paint crew; Jen York, Gunnar Johnson, and Frank Roberts.

There’s not a dull moment, literally, in this well-crafted comedy, making it a welcome break from the daily slog of our current reality. Not surprisingly, the opening night audience ate it up with a spoon, and laughed their way through to the end.  

Sep 15th to Oct 1, 2017
Tacoma Little Theatre

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