Rumors’ play showcases physical comedy and creative staging

Published 9:00 am Sunday, October 15, 2017

By Sarah Kocher

In addition to ’70s costuming, a New York feel and some delicate timing, show director Rory Mattson said community members attending Albert Lea Community Theatre’s Production of “Rumors” can expect a lot of laughs.

“The only challenge I’ve had is to keep my actors from laughing at each other,” Mattson said.

Email newsletter signup

Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” which opens Oct. 19, follows four couples who arrive at the deputy mayor’s house for a party, only to discover that he has shot himself. As the couples try to sort out exactly what has happened and who is involved, the group dynamic spins increasingly out of control.

“Basically, the only people that truly believe what’s happening is … the ones on stage,” actor Mark Place (Lenny) said. “The people out here (in the audience) aren’t buying it for a New York minute. They don’t believe it at all, but they go along.”

Albert Lea Community Theatre vice president Kristan Dye and her three wigs appear in various states of dishevelment as the play picks up steam. Sarah Kocher/Albert Lea Tribune

Albert Lea Community Theatre (ACT) vice president Kristan Dye, who plays Cassie, said the ACT board chose the farce because it was “laugh-out-loud funny.”

“They’re in for a fun night of frivolity,” she said.

Dye read the script for a second time on her patio before deciding to audition and said she couldn’t stop laughing.

“I’m sure the neighbors thought I was crazy,” Dye said.

Farce as a comedic style is big and broad, Mattson said, and characterized by its largely physical comedy and quick pace. According to Place, “Rumors” is no exception.

It has a “breakneck pace,” he said. “It definitely will move along.”

With “Rumors” comes challenges unique to both the comedic style and the ACT theatre production itself. Mattson said he is trying to stay as true to the script as possible, and the script calls for the set to be a two-story Upper East Side town home.

“It’s a smallish set, so to get a … two-floor, Upper East Side townhouse look, it’s always quite complicated,” Dye said. The set designers have instead created a two-tiered stage to create the illusion of a two-story home.

The script provides challenges for the actors, too.

“Especially in a farce, a lot of lines are very similar, so memorizing them was tough,” Place said. “… You think, ‘Is that in Act I or Act II? Is that the first time you answer the phone or the second?’ That can be a challenge.”

But nonetheless, Dye said the dynamic between the actors, many of whom have acted together before, is working to their advantage.

“There’s nothing like live theater,” Dye said. “It’s the ultimate rush.”

And while community theater is dictated by the talent that walks through the door and ACT volunteer numbers have taken a slight dip, Mattson feels the play has the right talent for the script.

“I was really lucky I had enough actors with the kind of personality it takes to do farce,” he said.

Mattson has directed over 60 plays in his theater career and estimates he has acted or been on crew in at least 100. Of that total number, seven have been Neil Simon plays.

“I think the board felt like I understood Neil Simon’s message to the world,” Mattson said.

What is that message?

“Neil Simon’s message to the world is mostly, ‘Go ahead and laugh.’”

About Sarah Kocher

Sarah covers education and arts and culture for the Tribune.

email author More by Sarah