There is a reason that theaters put on Neil Simon plays. As long as you arm yourself with a quality director and a capable cast, putting on a Neil Simon comedy is money in the bank. That is certainly the case with Rumors being presented now by MadKap Productions at Skokie Theatre in Chicago’s near north suburbs.
Director Wayne Mell, managing director of Skokie Theatre and one of the founders of MadKap Productions, has done a fine job making this cruiser ready for voyage. He has a keen grasp for effective blocking in a petite space, as well as for guiding his actors in character development and line delivery.
When you first enter Skokie Theatre’s performing space, you will be significantly impressed with the modern, art-deco set. The stage directions for Rumors require specific attributes in the set, and the Skokie Theatre production fits all these requirements without seeming too cramped. Indeed, the set by Mell with construction by Scott Richardson and decoration and painting by Barry Norton, is a showpiece that really impresses.
As impressive as the Rumors set is, it is the words of Simon that make this comedy gem dance. The Skokie production promises giggles, chuckles, and all out laughter throughout. It is a riotously good time.
The story takes place in the home of Charlie Brock and his wife Myra. Charlie is a the deputy mayor of New York and he and his wife have invited a slew of affluent friends over to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. The guest lists includes Charlie’s attorney Ken Gorman and his contracts attorney wife Chris, his accountant Lenny Ganz and his wife Claire, psychologist Ernie Cusack and his TV chef wife Cookie, and political candidate Glenn Cooper and his trophy wife Cassie.
However, when the guests arrive, they discover quite the mess. Myra is missing and Charlie remains hidden from view in his bedroom trying to stop the bleeding from a gunshot wound to the earlobe. Yes, earlobe.
What ensues is a cavalcade of misunderstandings, deceptions, and, of course, rumors as the guests try to figure out what has happened and how to protect themselves and their hosts from legal or public relations woes.
Landon Cally and Julie Peterson as Lenny and Claire Ganz command the stage with gusto. Cally’s Lenny is a quirky fellow with a tendency towards high drama and a rather creative imagination. Peterson makes really bold character choices as Claire, making her a joy to experience. Together, Cally and Peterson carry much of the comedy on their shoulders – and do so in fine form. Both actors add the exquisite details to make their characters come alive.
State Senator candidate Glenn Cooper is deliciously played by film and television veteran Peter Goldsmith. His candidate is perfectly pompous and self-absorbed. Katherine Wettermann is also strong as his wife Cassie – who loves crystals and stirring up trouble.
Erin Renée Baumrucker is enjoyable as Chris Gorman who has been thrust into playing hostess while her husband tries to take care of Charlie. Nathan Dale Short plays Ken Gorman, who also is a source of laughter when he stands too close to a gun and ends up unable to hear anything his compatriots are saying.
The role of psychiatrist Ernie Cusack is embraced by Lee Wichman, who blesses his character with an odd sensibility and unique traits like a jarring, comic laugh. His TV personality wife Cookie is nicely played by SarahAnn Sutter who injects a lot of physical humor into her performance.
Rounding out the cast are Maddy Shilts and Luke Coleman as two police officers who arrive at the Brock household and are thrust into investigating exactly what is going on and why the inhabitants are so suspiciously out of sorts. Although playing smaller roles, Shilts and Coleman make good use of their time on stage.
Rumors premiered on Broadway in 1988. Christine Baranski won a Tony award for her performance as Chris Gorman in the original production. It was the first farce that Simon ever published, wherein he thought it would be fun to script a comedy in which the well-to-do must face chaos while dressed in fine evening clothes.
Simon wrote more than 30 plays during his career. Over the course of his career he won three Tony Awards and a Golden Globe Award. He was celebrated at the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995 and received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2006. He received multiple Emmy and Academy Award nominations as well.
Rumors is produced by Wendy Kaplan, who also handles costume design with the assistance of wardrobe mistress Patti Halajian. Lighting design is by Pat Henderson. Sound design is by Kevin J. Mell.
Every production that MadKap produces at Skokie Theatre shows growth. The company has achieved a great deal since being started in 2010. From theater to music to special events, the programming at Skokie Theatre is admirable and worth enjoying.
If you’re a fan of comedy and laughter, put MadKap Productions’ Rumors at Skokie Theatre on your dance card.
Rumors plays Friday and Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM through April 23. There is a special Wednesday matinee on April 19 at 1:30 PM.
For ticket information visit www.SlkokieTheatre.org or call the box office at (847) 677-7761.
The theater company has also announced its 2023-24 season to include Hair, A Chorus Line, The Sisters Rosensweig, On Golden Pond, and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. There is an early bird discounted rate for those subscribing before May 1st.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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