Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Rumors @ Crescent Beach is community-theatre summer silliness writ large
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

From the footlights : Not all was sweetness and light in 1988 when Neil Simon's Rumors first hit the stage in NYC. HIV/AIDS deaths there exceeded 5,000. Crack cocaine had made its street debut. 750,000 acres in Yellowstone National Park were incinerated by fire. Ben Johnson briefly won the 100 metre dash in Seoul : scant hours later the steroid Stanazol exposed his Olympian betrayal.

For his part, Simon was going through a bad patch and wanted to lighten up his own life. As escape, the author of The Odd Couple wrote a farce, set it in a tony N.Y. suburb, and put his characters into evening dress. "I thought that was a nice counterpoint to the chaos that was happening on stage," he said, riffing about this batch of nouveau riche 40-somethings in their tuxes and fancy frocks. [I was 40-something then. In White Rock, evening dress for us was clean Levis atop semi-worn Adidas.] Simon's chaos includes the deputy mayor's apparent botched suicide attempt; his missing wife; rumors of hi-level sexcapades; a BMW car crash; coverups and evasions; keystone cops door-slams and ironic witty jibes galore.

Hi-octane foolishness trying to keep the lid on NYC Deputy Mayor's sketchy personal life is what drives this Neil Simon farce at the Beach House Theatre community stage at Crescent Beach. 

NYT critic Frank Rich points out that "farce [is] a form to be prized for its violent comic cataclysms, not for its psychological realism or depth". And whether or not Mr. Simon succeeds in stitching together his cartoon characters seamlessly, the Beach House Theatre production makes the most of the plot's japery and caricatures. 

How it's all put together : A 10th anniversary dinner celebration. Four couples have been invited to help the Deputy Mayor Charlie and his wife Myra celebrate. But when the first guests arrive -- lawyers Ken Gorman (Matt Falletta) and wife Chris (Janine Guy) -- they discover that not only is the dinner still uncooked, the hired help is nowhere to be found, neither are Charlie and Myra. Ken finds Chuck upstairs schlumped on Valium with a bullet hole in his ear. He and Chris conspire to be know-nothings about it all to "protect" Charlie's political reputation. The rest of the night they speculate with their mystified friends whether the sexcapade rumours are fake news or no. 

Original Rumors show poster from the NYC Broadhurst Theatre production in 1988.
Image from Wikipedia website.
When Lenny Ganz (Tom Gage) and wife Claire (Jenessa Galbraith) arrive on the scene, they are fresh from that car crash in their 2-day old BMW, rammed by a new-off-the-lot Porsche convertible. Lenny sports a contortionist's version of whiplash : but his mouth still revs at redline speeds. Soon come psychologist Ernie Cusack (James Walker) and his ditzy wife Cookie (Michelle Collier). Last through the door are wannabe state senator Glenn Cooper (Aran Davison) and wife Cassie (Jessica Tabak). Their last name should rightly be the Bickertons for all their constant kvetching at one another.

When Officer Carl Pudney (Gareth Owen) attends with partner Officer Gwen Welch (Rebekah MacEwan), what starts as a gritty grilling by Welch ends in capitulation to the tall tales Lenny -- masquerading as Charlie -- spins spontaneously about what all has been going on here. After much silliness and tomfoolery the cops finally abandon the guests and their wordy nonsense. Simon's show can now come to its goofy end (without us ever laying eyes on either Charlie or Myra).

2018 Beach House Theatre poster by Benjamin T. Stone lends just the right chaotic hues and tones for this Neil Simon one-off farce of a drawn-out dinner party gone not just tipsy but slightly mad.

Production values that hi-light the action : Beach House Theatre's setting on Blackie Spit in Crescent Beach is equal to or even exceeds what Bard on the Beach rightly brags about each year at its Vanier Park venue in Vancouver. The al fresco tent with its translucent ceiling looking northwest over Mud Bay at sunset is truly spectacular. Breanne Harmon's swan song living room set after six seasons with BHT is just the right mix of muted blue-grey walls offset by gobs of white : doors and asymmetrical window frames plus leather-&-chrome chesterfields and settees that would be favoured by newly wealthy who want to strut their stuff. Her eye blends stage and the seaside sand and water backdrops superbly.

Costume designer Linda Weston's togs meet playwright Simon's intentions and expectations 100%. E.g. Cookie's 60-year-old Russian dress is a masterful contrast to the other women's schmancier charity ball gowns they kibbitz over : "Was that Muscular Dystrophy in June?" "No, it was Emphysema in August!" goes Simon's glib dialogue.  

Acting pin-spots : The plot-line and whodunit-dialogue from Mr. Simon both lend themselves to the show being a bit on the shout-y side. That said, there are countless moments of memorable delivery across the field of ten actors who each and all evince enthusiasm and no hesitation or hold-back projecting their considerable lines during the 135 minutes they were all on stage (or hiding behind slammed doors...). 

Favourite moments to this eye and ear were three : Janine Guy as Chris Gorman was nothing but sheer treat. She was an accomplished knock-off of Julia Louis-Dreyfus doing Elaine Benes in the late-great Seinfeld series and held on to her character clingingly, delightfully the night through.

The bitchy exchanges between the Coopers -- Aran Davison as Glenn and Jessica Tabak as wife Cassie -- were probably Simon's best and most compleat dialogue exchanges in the entire show [see Addendum]. Pure Albee a la Burton and Taylor sniping sarcastically to-&-fro in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Their scenes alone make the ticket a proper grab.

But of course the hi-lite of the script and of this performance is Thomas Gage as accountant Lenny Ganz in his hand-me-down smoking jacket and M.A.S.H.-style gauze ear covering. Play-acting for the cops as if he in fact is Deputy Mayor Charlie Brock, his animated monologue would make Neil Simon himself stand and cheer, never mind the crowd on opening night. We all clapped eagerly at the end of his hilarious fantasy about some Mexican servants who were prepping Italian food and what really happened to cause the gunshots, missing Myra and all the other mayhem at play here. 

Who gonna like : There are two immediate issues with Rumors that are Neil Simon's fault alone and nothing to do with the BHT show's directors or actors. 

(1) His script fails to create meaningful relationships among all ten characters such that they are believable as friends and neighbours. Thus while lines as stand-alone dialogue may be hilarious, and often are, there is little by way of synergy among the roles, just coincidental proximity. 

(2) Length. At 135 minutes the show exceeds its mandate by at least 15-20 minutes i.m.o. I understand copyright limitations may preclude the kind of editorial excision the script sorely warrants and deserves. Still. If only.

But. And a BIG! "but" here. If you like Neil Simon's oh-so-clever ear for cadence and nuance and ironic jibe. If you are a fan of farce that is designed simply to tickle your ribs, not tweak your brain. If you crave an evening's outing that reminds you what joys small-town eagerness and enthusiasm can bring to any enterprise they put their minds to. Any or all of the above markers checked off, no question Beach House Theatre's Rumors is just the tonic to gin up the final weeks of this oh-so-summery season that 2018 has given us.

N.B. #1 : BLR bias reveal. Like BHT Artistic Directors Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon, I, too, am an alumnus of Earl Marriot Secondary in White Rock where I briefly dabbled a bit in classroom drama as a teacher there in '73-'74 during the school's inaugural year. As well, like many of the BHT troupe, I am also an alumnus of the White Rock Players Club where I last acted back in 1980 doing a Lerner-&-Lowe song-&-dance anthology (never did master the damn step-ball-change manoeuvre...). So community theatre works for me on a visceral, gut-level that may jaundice the above views somewhat.

N.B. #2 : Seldom have I seen such wholesale community energy and volunteerism and eagerness to support local boot-strap theatre the way the Crescent Beach / White Rock folks do for BHT on every level. Not just the production crew and the performers, who are robust and vigorous to a person. But also the excellent overall site presentation and management of BHT from concessions to refreshments with their stand-up tables that gaze off-shore into the silhouette of sailboats and paddle boarders and gulls and terns. Not to mention the orderly line-up of biffies off-piste: the volunteer quantum to pull all of this off is in the hundreds and counting. Huzzah's! to one and all.

Addendum :  Attached is the original version of the Glenn \ Cassie argument in Act 1 that is so vintage Neil Simon but also reminds me so of the Brando/Taylor Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? snipes over dinner with George Segal & Sandy Dennis.

And the fact that Aran Davison & Jessica Tabak executed it so crisply in this BHT production warrants reproducing it here :

CASSIE... Do I look all right?
GLENN... Yes. Fine.
CASSIE... I feel so frumpy.
GLENN... God, no. You look beautiful.
CASSIE... My hair isn't right, is it? I saw you looking at it in the car.
GLENN... No. I wasn't.
CASSIE... What were you looking at then?
GLENN... The road, I suppose.
CASSIE... I can always tell when you hate what I'm wearing.
GLENN... I love that dress. I always have.
CASSIE... This is the first time I've worn it.
GLENN... I always have admired your taste is what I meant.
CASSIE... It's so hard to please you sometimes.
GLENN... What did I say?
CASSIE... It's what you don't say that really drives me crazy.
GLENN... What I don't say?... How can it drive you crazy if I don't say it?
CASSIE... I don't know. It's that looks that you give me.
GLENN... I wasn't giving you any looks.
CASSIE... You look at me all the time.
GLENN... Because you're always asking me to look at you.
CASSIE... It would be nice if I didn't have to ask you, wouldn't it?
GLENN... It would be nice if you diddn't need me to look, which would make it unnecessary to ask.
CASSIE... I can't ever get any support from you. You've got all the time in the world for everything and everybody else, but I've got to draw blood to get your attention when I walk in a room.
GLENN... We walked in the room together. It was already done. Cassie, please don't start. We're forty-five minutes late as it is. I don't want to riun this night for Charley and Myra.
CASSIE... We're forty-five minutes late because you scowled at every dress I tried on.
GLENN... I didn't scowl, I smiled. You always think my smile looks like a scowl. You think my grin looks like a frown, and my frown looks like a yawn.
CASSIE... Don't sneer at me.
GLENN... It wasn't a sneer. It was a peeve.
CASSIE... God, this conversation is so banal. I can't believe any of the things I'm saying. We sound like some fucking TV couple.
GLENN... Oh, now we're going to get into language, right?
CASSIE... No, Mr.Perfect, I will not get into any language. I don't want to risk a scowl, a frown, a yawn, a peeve or a sneer. God forbide I should show a human imperfection, I'd wake up with divorce papers in my hand.
GLENN... What is this thing latly with divorce? Where does that come from? I don't look at you sometimes because I'm afraid you're thinking you don't like the way I'm looking at you.
CASSIE... I don't know what the hell you want from me, Glenn. I really don't.
GLENN... I don't want anything from you. I mean I would like it to be the way we were before we got to be the way we are.
CASSIE... God, you suffocate me sometimes... I want to go home.
GLENN... Go home? We just got here. We haven't even seen anyone yet.
CASSIE... I don't know how I'm going to get through this night. They all know what's going on. They're your friends. Jesus, and you expect me to behave like nothing is happeneing.
GLENN... Nothing is happening. What are you talking about?
CASSIE... Don't you fucking lie to me. The goddamn city knows about you and your cheap little chippy bimbo
GLENN... Will you keep it down. Nothing is going on. You're blowing this up out of proportions. I hardly know the woman. She's on the Democratic Fund Raising Cammittoo. I met her and her husbad at two cocktail parties, for God sakes.
CASSIE... Two cocktail parties, heh?
GLENN... Yes! Two cocktail parties.
CASSIE... Do you think I'm stupid?
GLENN... No.
CASSIE... Do you think I'm blind?
GLENN... No.
CASSIE... You think I don't know what's been going on?
GLENN... Yes, because you don't.
CASSIE... I'm going to tell you something, Glenn. Are you listening?
GLENN... Don't you see my ears perking up?
CASSIE... I've known about you and Carol Newman for a year now.
GLENN... Amazing, since I only met her four months ago. Now I'm asking you to please lower your voice. That butler must be listening to everything.
CASSIE... You think I care about a butler and a bleeding cook? My friends know about your bimbo, what do I care about domestic help.
GLENN... I don't know what's gotten into you, Cassie. Do my political ambitions bother you? Are you threatened somehow because I'm running for the Senate?
CASSIE...  State Senate! STATE SENATE! Don't make it sound like we're going to Washingtion. We're going to Albany. Twenty-three degree below zero in the middle of winter Albany. You're not Time's Man of the Year yet, you understand, honey?
GLENN... Oh, boy, oh, boy, oh, boy!
CASSIE... What was that?
GLENN... Oh-boy, oh-boy, oh-boy!
CASSIE... Oh, like I'm behaving badly, right? I'm the shrew witch wife who's giving you such a hard time. I'll tell you something, Mr. State Senator. I'm not the only one who knows what's going on. People are talking, kiddo. Trust me.
GLENN...What do you mean? You haven't said anything to anyone, have you?
CASSIE... Oh, is that what you're worried about? Your reputation? Your career? You place in American history? You know what your place in American history will be?... A commemorative stamp of you and the bimbo in a motel together.
GLENN... You are so hyper tonight, Cassie. You're out of control. You've been rubbing your quartz crystal again, haven't you? I told you to throw those damn crystals away. They're dangerous. They're like pertrified cocain. 
...Don't take it out, Cassie. Don't rub your crystal at the party. It makes you crazy. 
...Put that away. I don't want my friends to see what your doing.
CASSIE... Fine. Don't let my friends see what you're doing 

Particulars : Script by Neil Simon.  Produced by Beach House Theatre, Candace Radcliffe & Rick Harmon, Artistic Directors. On nightly, 8 p.m., under the stars at Blackie Spit, Crescent Beach through August 20th. Run-time two hours and twenty minutes. Tickets via 778.862.2141 or 

Production crew : Directors Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon. Set Designer Breanne Harmon.  Costume Designer Linda Weston. Stage Managers Chelsea Bunyan and Ryan Leiper.  Props Manager Dianna Harvey.

Performers : Michelle Collier (Cookie Cusack).  Aran Davison (Glenn Cooper).  Matt Falletta (Ken Gorman).  Tom Gage (Lenny Ganz).  Jenessa Galbraith (Claire Ganz).  Janine Guy (Chris Gorman).  Rebekah MacEwan (Officer Gwen Welch).  Gareth Owen (Officer Carl Pudney).  Jessica Tabak (Cassie Cooper).  James Walker (Ernie Cusack).


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