Arts theater review

Rumor has it…

…that you shouldn’t spread rumors — they may come true

8922 ivy li   rumor
Ernie (Kim Dauber '18) picks up the phone.
Anjali Nambrath

Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Eryn Gillam ’21
Performed by the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble
W97 black box theater
Jan. 25 – 26

Eight overdramatic men and women, a suicidal deputy mayor, and an unruly gun converge one night during a fated anniversary party. We all know what ensues: Rumors galore. This past weekend, MIT Shakespeare Ensemble pulled off the farcical hilarity that was the IAP performance of Neil Simon's Rumors. Full of wit, character, and uproarious laughter, the show is yet another example of the humor that the Ensemble is capable of.

The play opens in a living room the night of the 10th anniversary houseparty of Charlie and Myra Brock, the deputy mayor of New York City and his wife. Ken Gorman (John Bond ’19) — Charlie's lawyer and best friend — and Chris Gorman (PJ Hernandez ’20) — Ken’s wife — are the first partygoers to arrive. When they pull up to Charlie’s house, they hear a gunshot — Charlie had just tried to shoot himself in the head but luckily only managed to blow off his earlobe. Being a paranoid lawyer and wanting to protect the reputation of his best friend, Ken brainstorms with Chris how to keep Charlie’s attempted suicide a secret from the other partygoers. But as more couples arrive — Lenny and Claire, Glenn and Cassie, Ernie and Cookie —  the scene become too suspicious to keep the truth under covers. What is real, and what is mere rumor? As truth and lie banter back and forth across the stage, the audience can hardly tell one from the other.

Perhaps one of the most hilarious traits of Rumors is its eccentric cast of characters — eight minds with chaos enough to spin up tall tales, with reason enough to notice when something is amiss, and with heart enough to strike a chord with audience members. Eryn Gillam ’21, director, shares her vision: “I really wanted to focus on having balanced characters. It’s easy to play most of the characters as just absurd, but I wanted to make sure these people seemed like they could be real despite all the chaos of the play.”  Hunter Richardson ’19 loved playing the “sassy and pretentious” Claire — saying, “She’s always mischievously playing with Lenny or lifting an eyebrow at Ernie. Her reactions to every person are different, but still playful, sassy, and sarcastic like she just can’t help herself… She’s truly an unstoppable force.” Alena Culbertson ’22 plays Cassie, who is always too used to getting what she wants, saying that her favorite scene was, “[...] when I enter and immediately start flirting with another woman’s husband. It’s such a bold move, and the lighting and hair changes really helped me embody this pissed-off woman who was doing a lot of things I would never do in real life.” Joseph Bonavia ’22, the actor behind the blood-and-thunder Lenny, saying, “Even when he was calm he was still such a melodramatic character… his blunt and often rude demeanor was a fun challenge for me. Lines like ‘Bang! Bang! Ya bastard!’ were a lot of fun.”

Many moving parts had to come together in a mere three weeks for the show to be a success. “From having lights and costumes and a set to locating a performance space and publicizing the show, the behind-the-scenes of how a production happens involves a lot of communication and cooperation,” says producer Anjali Nambrath ’21. Johnson Huynh ’21, co-technical director alongside Montse Garza ’22, explains how making the coffee table required more effort than expected; as some boards for the table surface were bent, so he had to cover it with other boards. “I think that audience members definitely didn't notice how there seemed to be two-by-fours sandwiched in between larger pieces of wood for the coffee table. I, on the other hand, still go to sleep knowing that my lovely coffee table's true surface wouldn't see the light of day.” Set designer James Drayton ’21 comments on how set designing for this show was rather different than designing for a Shakespeare show: “My challenge was less to say ‘here's all the stuff,’ and more to say ‘the script tells me what it needs; how do I arrange it in the space to make it pretty to look at?’”

Despite the time crunch, the cast and crew wove so many little details into the show that escape your notice if you aren’t paying close attention. For example, as Eryn explains, “Myself and the actors tried to add small background action to make the scenes feel dynamic. Officer Pudney has only two lines in the play, but I wanted the actress to make her presence evident in the background. The actress playing Pudney [Cami Ramirez-Arau ’16] and I spent a while brainstorming things she could do in the background to be present despite her silence. If you paid attention, you could see her eat a pretzel, poke around in the jackets, try to open the basement, and sometimes take a drink despite being on the job. It was the atmosphere of collaborative humor that lead to most of these ideas… so much of the play emerged organically from what started as jokes in rehearsals.”

All in all, an outstanding performance from the Ensemble. Keep your eyes peeled for their upcoming Spring semester performance of the Shakespearean comedy, Measure for Measure!