Janine Guy, Jenessa Galbraith, Matt Falletta and Thomas Gage in Neil Simon’s Rumors, evening show in the 2018 Beach House Theatre season. Sebastien Galina photo

REVIEW: More panic than laughter in Rumors

Good playing overshadowed, although Neil Simon farce entertained

There can be no doubt that the Beach House Theatre Society – in setting out to accomplish a dream on the part of co-creators Candace Radcliffe and Rick Harmon – has succeeded brilliantly.

For season seven, a solid base of White Rock and South Surrey live-theatre fans continued to make the trek to Blackie Spit in Crescent Beach for a brief summer season of shows in the company’s sophisticated oceanside tent theatre.

Although I was not able to view the kids-and-family-oriented daytime show Miss Electricity, directed by Courtney Shields, I have no doubt that it lived up to the reputation Beach House has developed for high-energy, creative, audience-involving mid-day entertainment.

The evening show, Neil Simon’s farce Rumors – which I did see – offered an evening of stylish, quality ‘pop’ theatre, smoothly directed by Radcliffe and Harmon, that kept its audience consistently entertained.

That it did not quite reach the apex of hilarity does not denigrate the work put in by the Beach House team – including those who laboured hard behind the scenes. It’s a testament to the fact that, while often chosen as an audience-pleaser by community and regional groups, farce is – at best – a hard beast to manage.

In their enclosed world of carefully laid plans devolving into nightmarishly spiralling deceit, theatrical farces depend on everything ‘serious’ theatre decries: broad stereotypes, artfully-employed schtick as opposed to emotionally-authentic acting, and a childlike glee in bending, if not actually fracturing, the ‘fourth wall.’

And while this is Simon’s only farce, much of his carefully written, character-driven, New York-oriented comedy – rooted in his formative years as a television gag-writer – also depends on a form of carefully-controlled schtick.

In the hands of adept players, the music of his words can be dialed up or dialed down in intensity as the situation demands. To play down this distinctly ‘New York’ voice of his writing – which this production seemed, oddly, to do – is akin to presenting a Dickens adaptation with nary a Cockney accent to be heard.

Rumors is a potentially uproarious vehicle in which members of New York’s moneyed class of professionals and their ‘trophy wives’ – c. 1989 – struggle to maintain the appearance of normality as they arrive at an anniversary dinner at the home of Charley Brock, deputy mayor of the city, and his wife Myra.

What the first arrivals discover – and everyone else learns – is that Charley is upstairs, bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound in his earlobe. Myra has vanished, the servants are gone, dinner is unprepared and whispered gossip is about to become ugly fact.

A desperate set of circumstances for this coddled coterie of status-seekers, no question, but this over-the-top production of Rumors, unfortunately, seemed to hit the ‘panic’ button more often than the ‘laughter’ button, and some good playing was overshadowed in the process.

Starting out at a 10 on the Richter Scale, it had nowhere to go from there. Suppressed hysteria is more amusing than actual hysteria, and some of the funniest ‘bits’ in the play might have become even more mirth-provoking through tightly-controlled understatement.

Janine Guy and Matt Falletta as first-arrivals Chris and Ken Gorman definitely had their moments, between her tearful confusion at what to say and how to act and his comedic deafness due to the accidental firing of a gun. But some of their more overwrought mannerisms – particularly the bug-eyed, defensive crouch Falletta adopted throughout the play – soon wore out their welcome.

Thomas Gage and Jenessa Galbraith were smoothly capable as equally perplexed Leonard and Claire Ganz, Galbraith supplying some sharp reactive comedy and Gage adroitly handling an extended explanation monologue that, alone, would have been worth the price of admission.

I also particularly enjoyed Aran Davidson and Jessica Tabak’s playing of their combative dialogue as the politically ambitious Glenn Cooper and his suspicious, neglected wife Cassie, while highly experienced Beach House regulars James Walker and Michelle Collier were reliably, and comedically, on the beam as bemused society psychiatrist Ernie Cusak and his ‘kooky’ wife Cookie.

Rebekah MacEwan and Gareth Owen as investigating police officers Welch and Pudney made a strong contribution simply by presenting a variation on the hyperactive goings-on, with MacEwan, in particular, demonstrating the kind of underplaying that might have helped the play overall.

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