A classic comedy, pratfalls paced with precision timing, a beautiful backdrop and a full house ushered in Edmonds 2014-2015 playhouse season as The Phoenix Theatre pulled off one of the most intricate Neil Simon dialogue challenges known to theatre.
I was in attendance at Friday night’s performance of “Rumors” and was struck by the champagne-sparkle performances of the cast.
Comedienne Melanie Calderwood (playing the part of Cookie Cusack) was paired for this production with veteran Phoenix Theatre actor, Larry Albert (Ernie Cusack). These two madcap actors were joined onstage by Phoenix favorites, the ogle-eyed and mug-happy Dan Jacoby (Ken Gorman); the steady and skilled Christian Ver (playing Glenn Cooper). The evening was capped off by J. Woody Lotts delivering, masterfully, THE monologue of the evening as Lenny Ganz; finally returning actor Asa Sholdez (Officer Welch) busted onto the stage mid-way through Act II and proved his diabolical skill of zero-to-sixty spinning the shenanigans to a breath-taking conclusion.
The performances of these five Phoenix Theatre veterans were supported by the refreshing and professional-quality performances of Monica Chilton (Chris Gorman); Rebekah Dawn (Claire Ganz); and Annie St. John who played Cassie Cooper.
It wasn’t lost on me that the four couples mixing it up in one of the zaniest action-packed cocktail parties in New York were matched – one debut Phoenix player to one veteran of the Phoenix Theatre stage. Each “Rumors” debut actor comes to The Phoenix Theatre with an impressive resume of stage successes – not one exception.
Opening Night began as the audience found their seats, greeted one another, and settled in comfortably, agreeing with Christine Mosere, managing director, over the success of the theatre’s new ticketing/seating system.
It is the practice of all houses to greet celebrities in the audience and Edmonds’ theatres adhere to that time honored tradition. The Phoenix Theatre noted their Opening Night guest, “Europe Through the Back Door” owner Rick Steves, who was accompanied by Trish Feaster, photographer, linguist and travel blogger at http://thetravelphile.com.
The audience was invited by the play’s director to turn their attention to the stage just as Ken Gorman and Monica Chilton burst in and the antics ala Neil Simon began.
“Rumors” twirls, dances, stumbles and challenges – just as the playwright intended – and the dynamic cast kept up the pace brilliantly. I’m not a total fan of frenetic humor – but I am a fan of this dedicated company, so I focused on the precision movements of the actors and the brilliant delivery of complicated, pun and prank-rich lines.
The farcical premise of “Rumors” centers around four couples that gather at the home of a New York politician as he and his wife (both off stage the entire performance) “try” to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary. Things go awry resulting in the host lying in his bedroom bleeding from a gunshot wound to his earlobe and his wife is nowhere in sight. As the confusions and miscommunications mount, the evening spins off into classic farcical hilarity.
Melanie Calderwood’s dramatic entrance onto the stage was met with the audible murmurs of her fans – the diva of comedy had arrived. Now, what could the audience expect from Edmonds’ darling of comedy? She didn’t disappoint anyone in the house! If Melanie’s “Rumors” part demanded a stumble – Melanie was down! When her part called for a look of horror, maybe even an overplayed grimace – Melanie didn’t disappoint. Damn it! She is SO unabashedly funny.
Same with over-the-top Dan Jacoby – I will never forget the hilarious absurdity of the towel wrapped around his head intended to heal his own, “the gun just went off next to my head” loss of hearing. I’ve seen Jacoby in four productions now and look forward to seeing what is next in store for him – and Edmonds’ comedy theatre enthusiasts.
However, for me, the evening was topped with the monologue delivered by J. Woody Lotts. Really! I don’t know how, as character Lenny Ganz, he pulled off explaining to Officer Welch (Asa Sholdez) the half-truths and mega-lies of just how the evening had become so tangled.
Lucky patrons were treated to an after-party on stage as wine was poured, and the congratulations ensued.
The Phoenix Theatre prides itself on “comedy without all the drama” but even more than that as its new season begins – The Phoenix Theatre can pride itself on being one of the region’s biggest little theatres.
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Rumors by Neil Simon, and directed by Christine Mosere, runs through Sept. 21 at The Phoenix Theatre, 9673 Firdale Avenue in Firdale Village.
Fridays/Saturdays ~ 8 p.m.
Sunday Matinees ~ 2 p.m.
Get your tickets by calling 206-533-2000 or go online to phoenixtheatreedmonds.com
Produced thru special arrangement with Samuel French Play Publishing.
— By Emily Hill