Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Novato Theater Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Jim McFadden, Haley Bertelsen, Marlyn Hughes,
and Timothy Geracoulis

Photo by Fred Denau
Rumors, now playing at Novato Theater Company, is one of Neil Simon's lesser-known comedies. Apparently, Simon was going through a difficult time (in the late 1980s) and thought writing a farce would be therapeutic for him. The result was this traditional two-act that begins with deceit, and devolves into an ever-expanding web of lies that threatens to ensnare every one of the characters.

The set-up is vintage Simon: well-to-do New Yorkers gathering at a friend's house for a party, where gossip will fly, infidelities will be revealed, and rivalries will flare. The party is to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Myra and Charlie Brock. Charlie is the deputy mayor of New York, a very powerful position. The first guests to arrive are the Gormans, Ken (Montgomery Paulson) and Chris (Candace Brown). But instead of welcoming hosts and tables groaning with hors d'oeuvres, they discover the hostess missing, the kitchen staff nowhere to be seen, and the deputy mayor upstairs with a gunshot wound to his head.

Not to worry, though, it's only a flesh wound. But Ken is concerned about the political scandal a seeming attempted suicide could pose for Charlie, so he and Chris decide to cover up the mess and keep the news from the other guests as they arrive. Of course, when the next guests arrive—Claire and Lenny Ganz (played by Haley Bertelsen and Timothy Geracoulis)—they bring their own problems, as Lenny's brand-new BMW was just smashed by a neighbor's car. Soon will follow the Cusacks and the Coopers and the farce will build upon itself as speculations fly and new craziness ensues.

Rumors may not be among the finest of Simon's plays—motivations aren't always fully thought out and characterizations can be a little thin—but there are plenty of funny lines and outrageous situations that can be mined for comedy gold.

Unfortunately, the cast here simply isn't up to the challenge of Simon's cleverness, which must be carefully teased out. The lines aren't incredibly funny on the surface, the actors need to discover and present all the layers of what's going on beneath the lines in order for them to deliver the maximum laughs. The actors are performing the words clearly enough, but almost no one seems to have actually created a character, and they fail to jell as an ensemble, either. I never once felt like these people were real friends; they seem to be merely a group of actors declaiming lines. I kept hearing what would be terrific laugh lines—if only the cast could access the sarcasm or suspicion Simon wrote into the script. Timing throughout the show is off, with actors rushing lines before the setup to the jokes have a chance to register with the audience. Comedy needs a brisk pace, to be sure, but a good slow burn now and then can give a laugh a chance to grow before it is set free with a properly timed delivery of a payoff line.

Among the ensemble, Marilyn Hughes (as Cookie Cusack) and Hande Gokbas (as Cassie Cooper) do the best job of finding the real characters in Simon's text, but Hughes has a tendency to push the physical comedy aspects of her role a bit. Her character suffers from debilitating back spasms, but with each attack we get only mugging, and no sense of real pain, which would give the audience a sense of schadenfreude, and likely elicit bigger laughs.

The set by designer Michael Walraven, who did terrific work with NTC's production of Sondheim's Company, has the bones in place, but with bare walls and only a handful of props (mostly glassware and liquor bottles), it lacks a real sense of place.

Though there are some good laughs scattered throughout this production, director Trevor Scott Floyd and his company leave far too much great material on the table to suggest these Rumors should be spread.

Rumors runs through September 24, 2017, at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato CA. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $27 general, $24 for seniors and students, $21 for NTC members and $12 for children under 12. Tickets and additional information are available at or by calling 415-883-4498.