‘Rumors’ flying high at Bristol Riverside Theater

By Michael Elkin, Bucks County Courier Times

Such is the bang-up beauty of “Rumors,” Neil Simon’s 1988 farce-fed comedy of errors that turns whisper-down-the-lane into a wind storm of half-truths, untruths and, perhaps more frighteningly, truths masked as unwanted guests.

Rumor mongering takes center stage these days at the Bristol Riverside Theatre, in a bristling, braying and innuendo-immersed staging that puts truth on trial in a very funny fast and furious way that would have Vin Diesel spinning wheels.

Slamming doors and slamming others is a slam-dunk for Simon, who uses language as a foil against fools who consider themselves above the commonplace yet somehow find a common cause in debasing their so-called friends and relatives.

In a way, the playwright takes a shot in the dark, with gun play at play in “Rumors,” providing target practice for the pumped-up action that occurs at a 10th wedding anniversary party where the host, New York’s deputy mayor, has somehow shot himself in the earlobe.

Interlopers run amok cramming the party with their own conjectures as to what really happened. Was it an attempted suicide? How many shots were there? And why isn’t the city official’s wife at home to greet the arrivals?

Simon puts out the welcome mat for a setting where zany is the zeitgeist as the gussied-up guests get with the program — creating cover stories to protect their hosts’ reputations while also covering themselves in excuses with thinly veiled attempts to save their own skin by not reporting the incident to the police.

The cast of characters is crazy to the corps, somehow so sophisticated yet senseless, spoiled and slightly rotten, all perfect sops to the Greed Decade debacles that was the ’80s.

Reportedly, Simon wrote the play to cheer himself up during a down time in his life, with bon mots and ripostes as punchline anti-depressants. Must have worked, because the daffy, delirious cast onstage at Bristol seems to be enjoying themselves, as well.

In a comedy as light as air, this group does some hilarious heavy lifting. Leonard C. Haas whips the action into shape from the get-go as Lenny Ganz, entering the party with a bad case of whiplash after his brand new BMW has been T-boned.

His wife, Claire, portrayed by Eleanor Handley, is truly skin-deep, but what lovely skin she has. Meanwhile Ernie and Cookie — with monikers more like Muppets than myopic party guests — are handled adeptly by Bruce Graham, who knows his ways around a play, and the delightful Jo Twiss, adding a twist of spice (and a spasmodic back) to her character.

Danny Vaccaro’s Ken Gorman has heard it all — except much of what is said at the party since getting too close to a gunshot has jammed up his ears. The ever-quizzical look on his face is that of a man dancing the foxtrot while everyone else is doing the waltz. But Vaccaro does vacuous superbly, and he handles all his steps just fine.

Director Keith Baker calls farce “comedy on steroids.” If so, we know who this cast’s talented supplier is.

There had been talk of reviving this Simon hit on Broadway, and given the outlandishly shallow times we have sunk to, maybe some presidential political wannabes who fall by the wayside before summer’s end could be perfect candidates.

Which ones? Can’t say.

It’s not my job to spread rumors. I leave that to the experts — like those

onstage at the BRT.



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