Neil Simon wrote "Rumors" at the end of the 1980s, following the three semi-autobiographical plays that made up his so-called "Eugene Trilogy."
Although wildly successful, those plays ("Brighton Beach Memoirs," "Biloxi Blues" and "Broadway Bound") were dramatic coming-of-age comedies, and not the urbane, wildly funny stuff Simon had made his name on back in the day.
"Rumors" was, in part, a response to those critics who clamored for another of the playwright's trademark laugh-fests.
"It's got lots and lots of little one-liners, but the jokes build as they go," says Armstrong Atlantic State University theater instructor Pam Sears, who's directing "Rumors" this weekend. "And the characters are very cleanly-drawn - of course, Simon is Simon - and it's great for student actors to explore that."
Interestingly, this production of "Rumors" is part of the AASU Theatre Program's "Summer of Murder and Suspense," and will be immediately followed by Anthony Shaffer's "The Murderer" and Laird Koenig's "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane."
Serious stuff. What's a Neil Simon comedy doing in such company?
"Well, it is a mystery," Sears says. "It's a mystery that's also a farce."
Here's the setup: "Rumors" is set at the posh home of Charley and Myra Brock, who are throwing a bash to celebrate their 10th anniversary. He's the deputy mayor of New York.
However, Ken and Chris Gorman, the first guests to arrive, discover Charley upstairs with a bullet-hole through his earlobe, and Myra's nowhere to be found.
Thus begins a classic farce - lies are told, forgotten, mis-read and re-told in a different way, identities are switched, doors are slammed.
As the comic knife is twisted, the intensity builds to a frenzied pitch. "That's the common thread in farce," Sears says. "Something is hidden, something is going to be discovered, and everybody's got to be protected."
Two by two, the other guests arrive, and they're all neurotic and self-absorbed, comically drawn stereotypes of the country-club set. Doctors and lawyers and psychiatrists and their social-climbing spouses.
"They don't know what happened, and they think their lives are going to get caught in a scandal, and be ruined," Sears explains. "Because they don't know what the story is, they start making up stories, and everyone gets confused by it."
Playing Chris Gorman, Christine Baranski won a Tony for the original Broadway production of "Rumors" in 1988.
AASU theater student Hillary Kaye plays Chris in the Savannah version.
"Chris," says Kaye, "is crazy. She's a nervous wreck all the time. Always. That's what she contributes to the play - she's always frantic and never sitting still.
"It's fun to play. Sometimes I catch myself relaxing and I'm like ‘Don't do that! She would be sitting on the edge of the couch!'"
Chris, she adds, "is a bad liar. Her husband Ken keeps telling her what to say to people, and she keeps getting it wrong. I don't think she really likes any of this."
Twenty years ago, director Sears acted in a production of "Rumors" at Atlanta's Alliance Theatre. "Now that I'm an older person, it's a completely different show for me," she says.
"I laugh so much at these characters and their marriage issues. I'm explaining to 18 to 21-year-olds what it's like when one spouse does everything for the other one. How at the country club somebody gets voted in, and somebody's not good enough to be voted in. The social networking and the politics of whatever career someone is in.
"These characters are very real, and that's what's going to be hilarious to the audience."
Where: Jenkins Hall, Armstrong Atlantic State University, 11935 Abercorn St.
When: 7:30 p.m. June 25-27, 3 p.m. June 28
Phone: (912) 344-2556
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