“Hilarious. Rowdy. Fun.” That’s exactly how director Tekla Monson ’18 summed up her production of “Rumors.” If anything, these words understate the exhilarating joy ride that is the 90 minutes of Monson’s adaptation of Neil Simon’s farcical play. For her, putting up the show was necessary to the Wesleyan community—she felt that showing “Rumors” would bring enthusiasm and levity to the theater scene on campus.
“I loved the potential for action and excitement on the stage that was provided by the script,” Monson said when reflecting about her decision to direct Simon’s “Rumors.” “I wanted the show to be bursting with energy.”
“Rumors” ran from April 7 to 9 with two 8 p.m. showings and a Saturday 2 p.m. matinee showing, all of which took place in Eclectic’s common area. It sold out all three shows. A beautiful set designed by Becky Eder ’18 transformed the space into an extravagant, interactive environment. Alongside Monson, stage manager Zack Lobel ’19 managed the behind-the-scenes aspects of the play, ensuring that it ran smoothly with each performance.
The unsung heroes of the show, however, were sound designer Grace Handy ’18 and costume designer Dominique Moise ’18. The duo used sound and costumes to enhance the narrative and intensify the performance. Throughout the show, crashes, clanks, and the ringing of a telephone were played as needed and had the audience jumping out of their seats in surprise. Moise’s work adequately convinced the audience of the absurdity of the show and played into the banter between many of the characters.
“Rumors” follows the interpersonal relationships between eight couples as they navigate the aftermath of the apparent suicide attempt of Deputy Mayor of New York, Charlie Brock, and the disappearance of his wife, Myra, at their 10th anniversary party. The characters first introduced to the audience are Chris and Ken Gorman, played expertly by Cassie Willson ’17 and Mitchell Stone ’16, respectively.
The chemistry between Willson and Stone was reminiscent of professionals in the theater industry. The range of emotion between the two was impressive enough, not to mention the way they recited their lines with intense speed without one single trip of the tongue. Willson wowed the audience with her dynamic faces and her convincing degradation to a drunken mess by the end of the first act.
Stone’s character rarely graced the stage in the beginning, but when he did, he commanded attention with his booming voice and careful elocution. With Willson and Stone’s entrance it’s difficult to imagine the acting capability in the show becoming any more impressive, but the introduction of the next two characters disproved that notion.
Vienna Kaylan ’19 and Alex Minton ’17 as Claire and Lenny Ganz (respectively) demonstrated a chemistry that was perhaps even more impressive than that of Willson and Stone. With the introduction of the Ganz couple, the necessity to keep the ruse up intensified for the Gormans and hilarity ensued. Kaylan’s character was a spitfire with no filter, and as the plot developed, every member of the cast provided their own flavor, rendering the show a piece to remember.
“My favorite thing about the process was probably the way the cast and crew started coming together after spring break,” Monson explains in discussing the cast dynamic. “We got really close during this rehearsal process. Everyone involved had a very positive attitude and contagious excitement. I really think that translated onto the stage.”
The play explored the entire spectrum of humor, ranging from physical slapstick to lofty sarcasm. Oren Maximov’s ’17 character, Cookie Cusack, provided physical comedy, even when he was not the focus of the show, acting in the background. Hugo Kessler ’19 joined Maximov as Ernie Cusack, and the two opted to provide visual explanations of their relationship’s stress that translated into hilarious performances. (One such instance was Kessler’s choice to explore his character’s distress, quite humorously, through his hair.)
“My favorite moment of mine for Ernie is when he absolutely loses it,” Kessler recounts. “He sort of stays calm for most of the play, but halfway through Act Two, he gives up. At that point, my hair got increasingly wilder (it became a character of its own).”
A recurring motif in the play is the presence of the characters that are always referred to but never seen. The Brock couple is never seen on stage, but their inclusion is integral to the narrative, and the Brocks also initiate the rumor mill. Quite certainly, the unseen character that ruled the first act was Harold Green, a socialite most of the on-stage characters hate. Larry Ganz summarizes his personality: “[Harold] is the god damn proxy new social member who just eats lunches and ruins people!”
Although Monson hesitates when it comes to playing favorites with characters, she grudgingly admits to a soft spot for Harold.
“I have a different favorite character every day,” she remarked. “But probably Harold Green. He is the new member at the club who is always talked about, but never seen.”
The moment of the play which truly brought the house down was the surprise appearance of a Public Safety officer. Halfway through the second act, it appeared that the play was being suspended because of a routine check from the officers, and Monson went so far as to trick the audience with the inclusion of Officer Mary Ann Matthews.
“[Matthews] was standing there [when we discussed the scene] and her co-workers immediately pointed to her,” Monson recalled. “She never got the chance to do theater while in school because she was always involved conflicting sports teams. She was so excited to have the chance to perform at last and we were all so happy to have her in the cast. Every night the crowd went wild, cheering after everything that she did. She became a very important member of the team and we all adore her.”
The narrative comes to its tumultuous ending with a lengthy monologue by Lenny, in which he fabricates a narrative of what happened that night while impersonating Charlie Brock. Minton’s performance of the monologue brought the house down with every single performance—the audience members were on the edge of their seats, following every word that fell from his lips as he simultaneously traversed across the stage.
“Even though my final monologue is a lot of fun, I really enjoy the moments before Glenn and Cassie arrive at the party, when everything is high stakes and fast paced,” Minton remarked.
Following the end of Minton’s monologue, the story seemed to come to an end, but right before the lights go down, someone yelled from the basement. Myra, the very character whose disappearance the cast has been attempting to solve throughout the night, was calling out from the basement. The audience is left perplexed, wondering if Lenny’s fabricated story was actually true.
Although the ending is left ambiguous, there is one thing that is certain: if you missed “Rumors,” you missed a night of laughter, hijinks, and energetic performances. The collaboration on all parts—from Monson and Lobel all the way down through the production team and the cast—manifests in a kind of brilliance that you can often find in Second Stage productions. After this spectacular exhibition from Monson, the University community waits in earnest for her next project, which will involve writing and directing a farce piece at a scrappy tourist attraction in South Dakota.