Regulars to the Copperstate Dinner Theater in Phoenix can expect a sense of deja vu when they first see the set of Neil Simon’s "Rumors," the company’s current show. A few trims here, a few new bolts there, it’s pretty much the same set as for the last show, a ripsnorting production of Michael Frayn’s "Noises Off."
It was a cost-saving measure, says Copperstate artistic director Peter Hill. But it could also be a time-saving device for Hill, also "Rumors’ " director and the man behind several shows running in the Valley.
Whatever the case, it’s a fitting retread. Because as much as the set is an alsoran, "Rumors" is a pale shadow of the farcical brilliance of "Noises Off," despite being written by one of America’s greatest dramatists. Like "Noises," there’s enough slamming of doors to put the set’s hinges to the test, and enough convoluted plot to elicit shaken heads of implausibility from the audience. But there are fewer solid punchlines in "Rumors," a show whose energy is sporadic, its payoff less rewarding.
At heart, "Rumors" is a murder-mystery farce without a dead body. Instead, we’re told that the deputy mayor of New York, Charles Brock, has attempted suicide but only shot himself in the ear. Conked out on Valium, he falls asleep upstairs as several of his wealthy friends stop by for a party. The guests — a potty-mouthed motley and tony bunch that’s chock so full of injuries this could be a klutz convention instead of a cocktail soiree — are left on their own to deal with the typical farce roadblocks that Simon throws up, from comic misunderstandings and alcoholic-becauseof-the-stress characters to the obligatory visit from the police by play’s end.
At a Sunday performance, the otherwise well-credited and Valley-cherished cast — including Athena Reiss and Beau Heckman — wasn’t adding much zing to the show, save for star Jon Gentry’s turn as Lenny, a sarcastic man who, after suffering a nasty car wreck and subsequent whiplash, is treated to the show’s funniest lines. (To the guest running for government office, he says, "You’re running for state senate? I wouldn’t let you run for Chinese food.")
The "Rumors" I saw was derailed by two things — a group of surprisingly rowdy, heckling folks in the audience, and the unnecessarily over-the-top performance of Phil Peulecka as one of the police officers who makes a visit to the house of farcical cuckoos. Grabbing his thick leather utility belt with both hands when not poking the heck out of his fellow actors, he was more upstate Barney Fife than simple plot device. Talk about police brutality.
When: 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 5:30 p.m. Sunday, through June 13
Where: Copperstate Dinner Theater in the Phoenix Greyhound Park, 3801 E. Washington St.
Cost: $32.95, includes dinner and gratuity
Information: (602) 279-3129
Note: Adult language