“Rumors”: gossip about Guilford’s first production of the 2013–2014 season

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Karlen Lambert/Guilfordian

You have arrived at a dinner party and find the host has shot himself in the head. How do you react?

If your first thought is, “What will the tennis club think of me?” then you might be a character in “Rumors.”

A farce by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Neil Simon, “Rumors” details how a group of New York socialites deals with the attempted suicide of their host. Madcap antics and cover-ups ensue.

“It’s a really wild, fast-paced comedy with characters who have a lot to lose, so it causes extreme behavior from everyone,” said Director and Visiting Instructor of Theatre Studies Marc Williams.

The first play of the Theatre Studies Department’s 2013–2014 season, “Rumors,” represents a shift away from the weighty subjects of last season’s productions.

“Last year, all the plays we did were pretty serious, even if they had their funny moments,” said sophomore Lucas Perez-Leahy, playing Ken Gorman. “When we came together to make the play, that was one of the things that Marc said; he was like, ‘I think we need a comedy now, after the German season of darkness.’”

“Rumors” is fun and frantic, but the cast worked endlessly to maintain realism in the rapid-fire pace.

“Tempo is important because something else causes it,” said first-year Emma Moreno, playing Claire Ganz. She continued, “People don’t ‘fast’ — that’s not a thing we do … The ‘what if’ results in speed.”

“Part of the challenge of doing a farce is that it’s tempting to just play tempo, where it’s all very fast-paced, and not be specific about motivation,” said senior Kelly Rose Cope, playing Cookie Cusack. “You have to have all your motivations and your intentions very, very clear in your mind so it’s not just high school kids running around slamming doors.”

The effect of “Rumors” is all in the timing.

“(Farce) involves near misses,” said Williams. “A lot of rehearsal has been spent choreographing those near misses.”

Choreography remains essential in the physical comedy which abounds throughout the show.

“We’ve had to work a lot on making sure that the injuries are genuine but still funny, so no one believes someone’s actually injured,” Williams said.

“We first had (my character) doing a somersault over the couch, which looked funny, but I was at risk of kicking another actor in the face,” said senior Lily Ozer, playing Chris Gorman.

This kind of action can only be perfected when rehearsing on the set, and as with the play itself, timing is of utmost importance.

“We got on the set earlier than previous productions, which was really beneficial for this show,” Ozer said. “Since we have the staircase, which a lot of actors have to run up and down frantically during the production, having a real staircase instead of something just taped down on the floor was really nice for us.”

While “Rumors” is very physical, the wit and satire of Simon’s script drives the show.

“There’s so many zingers in this show,” said Ozer. “They pop up everywhere. Every character gets a chance to say a couple zingers.”

The cast of characters compose a jumbled caricature of metropolitan upper crust.

“Most people don’t think of themselves as a bad person,” said Moreno. “Then there’s Claire walking into the room going, ‘I am the queen of the raging bitches, and I know it, and you know it and that’s why you respect me.’”

Visiting Instructor of Theatre Studies Robin Vest constructed a swanky set matching the elitist airs assumed by the characters.

“The tricky thing is that there (are) four doors that have to be used and one door that’s not really used but needs to be there, and how to do that in a simple way without ending up with this huge, massive set that a: we couldn’t really afford, and b: isn’t really that interesting,” said Vest.

“By finding an irregular shape (for the set), tilting this and angling things, she’s really been able to allow for this play to work in our space,” said Williams. “She’s created a world that gives the illusion of money on our limited budget.”

That illusion holds paramount importance in “Rumors”: the characters’ lives revolve around status and wealth.

“Farce presents us with a world that’s opulent, that seems magnificently wealthy, powerful, prestigious, and shows that fantasy is really a myth,” said Williams.

“You think you’re watching a comedy, but really, you’re watching a commentary on upper-class society and how ridiculous their lives are,” said Cope.

Still, “Rumors” is a comedy, hilarious even to the cast.

“I know I personally was crying with laughter by the end of the first three rehearsals,” said Perez-Leahy.

“Regardless of whether or not you consider yourself a ‘theatre person’ or like going to plays, this is funny, and you will laugh,” Cope said.

But maybe you should not take her word for it — rumor has it Cope is also the play’s publicist.

“There’s something in it for everybody,” said Cope. “If you like physical comedy, if you like character-based jokes, if you like witty one-liners, it’s all there.”

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