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"Rumors' is nonsense aplenty

Rumors, the post-absurdist farce by Neil Simon, didn't pack them in Tuesday at Festival Hall, but it definitely made an impression. The audience applauded Tony Straiges' elegant, off-white set, the ensemble scenery-chewing and the playwright's contrived second act, in which tuxedo-clad characters spend a great deal of time on all fours.

Simon's farce is set in the living room of a posh home in Sneden's Landing, N.Y., a wealthy, mostly white enclave of dilettantes who date their wardrobes according to the charitable benefits they attend.

The unseen hosts are Charlie and Myra Brock, who are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. The first guests to arrive are Chris and Ken Gorman (Kandis Chappell and Gibby Brand), who learn that Charlie is lying in an upstairs bedroom with a bullet hole in his earlobe; Myra and the help have vanished.

Ken, a lawyer, is terrified of scandal: Charlie is deputy mayor of New York City, after all. Ken urges an elaborate coverup, to which the ditsy Chris agrees. As the other couples arrive, the lies and half-truths pile up like cold linguini.

There ensues enough riotous nonsense to discombobulate even a clear thinker, and take it on faith that there are none on the premises. In rapid succession, we meet accountant Lenny Ganz (Peter Marshall) and his bejeweled wife, Claire (Patty McCormack), whose spanking-new BMW has just been broadsided by a stolen Porsche; Cookie Cusack (Heather MacRae), a TV chef, and hubby Ernie (Reno Roop), an analyst; state senator-wannabe Glenn Cooper (Michael Minor) and his sullen bride Cassie (Lynnda Ferguson), who are deep in the throes of domestic discord.

What follows is a fairly bland comedic stew, but lots of it: gunshots, a series of hard-of-hearing gags, a Rube Goldberg-style kitchen mishap (offstage), a character's back spasms, a running telephone joke, considerable shrieking and a slapstick Act I closer.

I was surprised by Marshall's pushy but likable Lenny, whose physical grace punctuates his astonishing explanation to the police near the end of the play. With a crocodile grin, he dismisses the idiots around him: "I had more fun at my bris!" he snarls.

McCormack also does a smart turn as the pampered Claire, who makes fecklessness seem a virtue.

If Rumors has a "star," it is Chappell's anxiety-prone Chris, who breaks her 18-month smoking hiatus with a comical vengeance.

Alternately shrieking at her husband or doing saucer-eyed double-takes, Chappell makes the show her own. Her Act I pratfall is a thing of beauty.

THEATER REVIEW

Rumors

Playwright: Neil Simon

Director: Peter Lawrence

Cast: Peter Marshall, Patty McCormack, Gibby Brand, Kandis Chappell, Lynnda Ferguson, Michael Minor, Reno Roop, Heather MacRae, L. Kenneth Richardson, Nancy Hillner

Set design: Tony Straiges

Lighting: Tharon Musser

Costumes: Joseph G. Aulisi

Presented through Sunday at Festival Hall by PTG Florida Inc. for the Tampa Bay Broadway Series. Performances at 8 nightly through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $13.50 to $31. Call 287-8844 or 221-1045.

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