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Rumors

Neil Simon's farce is a breakneck barrage of escalating chaos

What to do about Charlie in the next room? Rumors responds with cacophonous comedy. Photo credit: Dennis K Photography

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Rumors is a play that starts in the middle of a crisis. Rather than easing the audience in through introductions to what will balloon into a whirling dervish of a cast, Rumors begins at a fever pitch, and only ramps up the hysterics as the show goes on. This is a cacophonous farce that's jam-packed with the requisite slamming of doors and hurrying up and down of stairs, with complication after complication creating a profoundly labyrinthine and silly web of confusion.

Written by the legendary Neil Simon in 1988, Rumors concerns the attendees of a 10th anniversary party of New York City's deputy mayor and his wife. As the play opens, the first two guests, Ken and Chris Gorman (Mark Peterson and Jess Allan), are already in a tizzy over what to do about the host -- the deputy mayor is recuperating upstairs from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and his wife is nowhere to be found. Tension builds as more guests begin to arrive and it becomes necessary to concoct a story about what happened, lest any of the well-to-do attendees get implicated in any shady business.

Every actor gets their moment to shine with a cracking comic set-piece, but the play exudes its true power when all the characters come crashing together. Four couples dominate the stage time: the busybody socialites Lenny and Claire Ganz (Matt Garry and Jill Heinecke), who make the most of the implications of Rumors' title; the well-meaning Ernie and Cookie Cusack (Jeffery Swiney-Weaver and Shalleigh-Mairi Ferguson); and the insufferable, drama-obsessed yuppies Glenn and Cassie Cooper (Houston White and Kristen Blegen Bouyer).

In a play filled with some of the biggest, most genuine laughs I've heard from an audience, Garry is given a plum role with Lenny, who frequently gets to act as the audience surrogate, calling out every preposterous development and airing his frustrations with every escalating development. Swiney-Weaver and Ferguson also do admirable work with some hilarious physical comedy, and Peterson wrings every drop out of a role that requires him to act out much of the play with damaged ears. The Coopers get their own, isolated introduction, and they immediately establish a tone of aloof obnoxiousness that steadily won over the crowd with every one of their nauseating, New Age traits.

Rumors is a gangly giant of a play, thrusting its limbs out in odd directions and piling absurdities upon call-backs upon non sequiturs until the audience is suitably tendered. In addition to functioning as its own feverish, frantic farce, it also has moments of meta-commentary on the genre of farces themselves. This being Neil Simon's first stab at the style, he seems compelled to offer winking allusions to the genre's various tics, like having Cookie incessantly muse about how the characters' names are all very similar, or like the blissfully surreal ending that submerges the entire show into a cartoonish universe.

When Rumors is firing on all cylinders, as it usually is, there's no resisting the locomotion of comedy that all began with one gunshot before the audience was even seated.

Rumors, 7:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m., Sunday, through Oct. 1, $20-$24, Tacoma Little Theatre, 210 N. I St., Tacoma, 253.272.2281, tacomalittletheatre.com

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