By Tom Titus
April 14, 2016
Before 1988, the words "Neil Simon" and "frantic farce" never would have appeared in the same sentence. The emperor of Broadway comedy dealt in recognizable situations punctuated by witty dialogue.
Then came "Rumors."
Simon pulled a 180-degree turn with this wacky and convoluted account of four couples trying madly to cover up the accidental shooting of their host and the disappearance of his wife. It's given a high-voltage treatment by director Kyle Myers and a splendidly energetic cast at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
Ensemble excellence is demanded in this bullet-paced comedy, which resembles the British classic "Noises Off" in pace and structure. And this is what the Costa Mesa rendition has in abundance.
Myers has stitched four highly disparate pairs into a smoothly functioning unit while retaining the uniqueness of each, all the while pushing the tempo into overdrive. The result is a show that tickles you with one gag before you finish laughing at the preceding one.
The cast is uniformly excellent, but one performer stands out – the lanky Christine Cummings, whose comedic moves bring to mind a young Carol Burnett. Her facial reactions, whether creating new strategy or yearning for a forbidden cigarette, are simply priceless.
Approaching that level is the actor playing her husband, Randy "RJ" Brownfield, whose character is rendered temporarily deaf by a gunshot and plays much of his scenes at the top of his voice.
Michael Canas scores highly as an excitable lawyer whose new car has just been smashed and who's charged with putting things right at the end with a highly creative monologue. Emily MacAgy lends some pointed sarcasm as his feisty wife.
Sight gags are the province of Robert Moniz and Janet McGregor as a fussy psychiatrist and his cooking-show-hostess wife, appropriately named Cookie. McGregor's movements after slipping a disk in her back draw audience applause.
Late arrivals Mark Tillman and Victoria Serra as a preening politician and his self-absorbed wife also draw their share of laughter, especially when Serra begins channeling Salome as she flirts with the male guests. The new-age aspects of her character may seem outdated now, but they still evoke laughter.
Called in to set things straight are two Penn and Teller-type cops, the brusque Alexandra Moniz and her largely silent partner, Eric Vaughn Chumley. Moniz excels at taking over a room populated by such eclectic inhabitants.
"Rumors" is no stranger to local theaters, but it remains one of the funniest scripts available, no matter how many times you've seen it. It's hilarity in high gear at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.
TOM TITUS reviews local theater.
If You Go
Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through May 1
Cost: $18 to $20
Information: (949) 650-5269 or http://www.costamesaplayhouse.com