Eastland players find a lot of humor in these Rumors

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 Messenger photo by John Matuszak

Who’s at the door now? These dinner guests are caught up in the web of "Rumors," Neil Simon’s farce being staged by the Eastland Performing Arts Program Nov. 15-17 at Reynoldsburg High School. Those trying to prevent a scandal (and making things worse) are, from left, Matt Neumann, Elizabeth Testa, Alex Funk, Hope Rambo, Raven Elder, Matt Stanley, Cheryl Kemp and Zach Saunders.

The rumor mill is running full blast at Reynoldsburg High School.

Fortunately, there is a lot of humor to go along with these "Rumors," the Neil Simon comedy being staged by the Eastland Performing Arts Program Nov. 15-17 at Reynoldsburg High School’s auditorium, 6699 E. Livingston Ave.

"It’s his only farce, and he nailed it," commented director Doreen Dunn of the fast-paced funny business from the playwright known for such character-rich comedies as "The Odd Couple" and "The Sunshine Boys."

The scene centers around the tenth anniversary party for Charley, deputy mayor of New York City, and his wife, Myra.

The first guests arrive to find Charley in the bedroom with a bullet wound to the earlobe, and Myra (and the servants) gone.

They begin a frantic effort to avoid a scandal, and each subsequent couple arrives to add its own twist to the convoluted catastrophe.

The guests include Lenny, Charley’s tax accountant, who may or may not have his own reasons for ducking an investigation, and his wife, Claire.

Alex Funk, who plays Lenny, describes his character as "sarcastic" and someone "who says whatever comes to mind."

Claire "loves gossip and drama," according to actress Elizabeth Testa, and is the one who starts the rumors really spinning.

It is up to Lenny to finally provide a lengthy explanation to the police, in a marathon monologue that Funk had to break into five sections to memorize.

They are are joined by Ernie, a psychologist, and his wife, Cookie, who has a television cooking show.

"She’s not all there," commented Raven Elder of her character. "She doesn’t pick up on things, and she finds a way to say the inappropriate thing."

As if these mixed nuts weren’t enough for one party, Glenn, running for state senate, played by Zach Saunders, and Cassie, his crystal-dependent spouse, portrayed by Cheryl Kemp, jump into the fray, as well.

"She’s very obsessive, very needy, and very suspicious," Saunders observed of his stage spouse.

"He’s very fake. He’ll do anything for a vote," Kemp shot back about Glenn.

The dialogue has been a challenge, cast members noted, with the small number of characters meaning everyone has a lot of lines to master.

Dunn admitted that it is difficult to do farce. "You don’t want it to be a cartoon."

Instead, the actors have to be believable even while they are wildly running about the stage.

"You heighten the intensity," without overdoing it, "and that turns it to farce," Dunn said. "You walk a tightrope."

Simon’s success on the stage is no rumor. He is perhaps the most successful playwright in the history of American theatre, with three Tonys and a Pulitzer Prize, and is the only one to have four plays running on Broadway simultaneously.

Born Marvin Neil Simon, on July 4, 1927, he began his career writing radio and television scripts with his older brother, Danny.

Their work attracted the attention of Sid Caesar, who hired the brothers for "Your Show of Shows" as part of the most impressive stable of television comedy writers ever assembled, joining Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Howard Morris and Larry Gelbart.

Neil Simon later wrote for "The Phil Silvers Show" before his first Broadway play, "Come Blow Your Horn," in 1961.

For many years a Broadway season rarely opened without one or more Simon plays, as the prolific writer produced such classics as "Barefoot in the Park," musicals "Little Me," "Sweet Charity and "Promises, Promises," and more than 20 screenplays, among them "The Heartbreak Kid," recently remade with Ben Stiller.

Known for his one-liners, his later work became more introspective, as he explored his emotions following the death of his first wife in "Chapter Two," and his family history in a trilogy that included "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues."

"Lost in Yonkers," also based on his own memories, earned Simon a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. He was also the recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2006 and a Kennedy Center Honor in 1995.

The Eastland production of "Rumors" will be presented Nov. 15 at 7 p.m., with a preview performance, and Nov. 16 and 17 at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 501-4071.

The Eastland Performing Arts Program’s Cabaret Company will present "The Best of Broadway" as part of the bookfair at the Barnes & Noble Easton, Nov. 29 at 6:30 p.m. A percentage of purchases will benefit the performing arts program.

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