FORT MYERS — Florida Repertory Theatre spreads laughs - and devilishly funny "Rumors" - during their production of the Neil Simon farce. Door slams, back spasms, crystals down the toilet, exploding manhole covers and gunshots get played for laughs by a well-oiled ensemble on a set begging for a magazine cover.
In "Rumors," four wealthy couples gather in suburban New York at an anniversary dinner party. As the guest arrive, the servants and hostess are missing, the host has shot himself in the ear and - gasp! - there's no snacks, canapes or ice. Because the host is the deputy mayor of New York, they decide to do everything they can not to alert the police or the media - and the lies pile higher than the national debt of Greece.
"Rumors" is Simon's only true farce, although it is a bit more literate and literary than the ten thousand slamming doors, pranks and pratfall-filled antics of something like "Noises Off" or "Lend Me a Tenor." While there is some running, jumping and heaving about (a dance scene, set to "La Bamba" brought screams of laughter), the real comedy is in the rapid pitter-patter dialogue - these are gossipy upper-class society types after all. Sometimes they scream too.
"Rumors" is a true ensemble piece - and director Robert Cacioppo gets the very best from his professional cast. What the show does exceptionally well is highlight the sight gags (Viki Boyle's see-it-to-believe-it dress), sheer lunacy (Brad DePlanche with a towel wrapped around his head) and outright silliness (the marvelous David S. Howard answering a telephone - in the midst of bedlam - with a calm, composed, "Helloooooo?").
One of the night best moments comes when tiny firebrand Michelle Damato (her Chris Gorman is nearly driven mad by the night's events) stumbles drunk out of a bathroom head-first into the towering, elegant politician's wife character played by Jackie Schram. The actresses play the moment perfectly.
In a large cast, the long-limbed Schram sparks. Clad in a gorgeous ruby dress, she flirts, fumes and flaunts about the stage as if she owns it, particularly in scenes with fun-to-watch Peter Thomasson (Glenn Cooper). He plays his oily politician to the hilt - and their scenes as a feuding couple are some of the most fun to watch.
DePlanche - during a spell when his character is deafened by a gunshot - has enormous fun with various oinks, squeals and screams. Watch for his facial expressions. David Breitbarth spits out the enormous monologue at the end of the play - which (allegedly) explains everything - with flair.
I want to live in Jim Hunter's sumptuous Rockland County mansion. The set fits a soaring two-story house onto the Florida Rep stage with such style that most of the audience probably won't realize the front door is as tall as the staircase. Notice the details - like the vertical pictures, paintings, wallpaper and columns that give an illusion of height. Roberta Malcolm's smashing costumes flirt with jewel tones in ruby, garnet and deep sapphire - with the obligatory trim penguin suits for the boys.
If the play has a fault, it is that "Rumors" is possibly never energetic enough. The acting is marvelous - the woman next to me on Sunday laughed throughout the show and told her companion "Oh, I needed that" - but it is still the Neil Simon version of a farce, which means more talking (or frantic screaming) and less door-slamming. Despite the hilarity, the first act can feel a little long - and the truly gut-busting moments of comedy are farther apart than some audiences might wish.
"Rumors" brings a literate script together with a professional cast at the top of their game. There's a party, bullets, crystals, duck fat and everything in between. Admire Schram as she stalks the stage, look for how well the ensemble meshes in an infinite number of combinations and marvel at the gorgeous set.
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IF YOU GO
What: Neil Simon farce about four society couples at an anniversary party
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday & Sundays through Nov. 19
Where: 2267 1st Street, Fort Myers
Cost: $44 & $39; various specials available
Information: (239) 332-4488, floridarep.org
Something else: Free parking across the street
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CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review misspelled actress Viki Boyle's name.