IF YOU GO
What: Neil Simon farce about four society couples at an anniversary party
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 15
Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples
Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.com
Something else: The show contains multiple profanities.
Parking: The downtown parking garage fills up quickly. Plan to arrive early or use the new garage across from Cambier Park. Truluck's also offers a free valet.
NAPLES — The Naples Players opened the final play of their 2010-11 season, Neil Simon laughfest "Rumors," in grand style Wednesday. The woman seated next to me was literally shaking in her seat from laughter - and exclaimed on the way out that "my cheeks are hurting." This one's not deep, but boy, it's hilarious.
"Rumors" follows four wealthy New York couples as they arrive for the anniversary party of a fifth (always unseen) pair. As the guests arrive, they discover the servants gone, the hostess missing and host (the deputy mayor of New York) passed out upstairs with a gunshot wound to the ear. Things go downhill. "Rumors" ran for more than a year on Broadway and earned Christine Baranski a Tony.
Of all the prolific Simon's plays, "Rumors" stands as his only farce - complete with slamming doors, mistaken identities, convoluted tales and a bevy of insane situations as everyone lies to each other and the police to cover up the situation. If you have sensitive ears, be warned - the show does contain multiple four-letter expletives.
Director Pat Ashton takes full advantage of the ridiculousness, rarely letting any chance for an extra joke go by - be it ladles (wait for Ann Hoover's dead-on Paula Deen impression) or crystals (Bianca Embley's fortune-teller pose). One image that sticks with you - Jim Corsica waving around fingers covered with bandages like a child who's just opened a bag of Bugles corn chips.
Wednesday's audience roared with laughter over and over and over again. At its best, the show keeps the audience breathless and forces the cast to pause for the gales of hilarity. Ashton's experience with comic timing - getting the cast to hit the setups and punch lines with vigor - comes through wonderfully, although some of the exposition-heavy scenes do droop noticeably.
While the full ensemble is still rounding into form, former professional actor Michael Hennessey takes to the silliness with an unholy glee. Whether squawking at long-suffering wife Claire (a sublime Diane Davis), running up and down stairs or pouring out the final, breathless "here's what really happened" denouement, he's a pleasure to watch. His manic energy helps make the entire show work.
Davis and a delightfully saucy Bonnie Knapp (Chris) shine as gossipy society wives. Both toss off the crisp Simon one-liners as if they're batting tennis balls at the club - or perhaps cocktails at the bar. Wait for Knapp to open a bag of pretzels - and get one of the biggest laughs of the night. Newcomer Stan Zawatsky earns plenty of chuckles as hapless Ken.
Todd Potter's suburban New York set looks a beige and cream concoction straight out of New Rochelle. Soaring white beams that reach into the theater rafters offer exactly the sense of space and height found in so many McMansions.
Windows allow for the lights of arriving cars to shine through - and bold arches over doors and entryways break up the boxy feel. I'm not in love with the art though - and an odd trapezoidal geometric pattern on the stairway bannister kept distracting me. Dot Auchmoody's glittering ladies costumes capture a "socialites at play" feeling; the gentlemen go full penguin with slim-fitting tuxes.
While not a full door-slamming, hooting and hollering farce (it is Neil Simon, so expect some level of literacy), "Rumors" will definitely keep you in stitches. It's silly, cheesy, witty and way too much fun. Look for Hennessey, Davis and Knapp as lying party guests, Hoover (in a on-purposefully hideous gown) as a TV chef and newcomer Embley as an flirting sexpot wife in a slinky sapphire dress.
Tell me lies, tell me sweet little lies. Email me, email@example.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.