‘Rumors’ a sarcastic delight for adult ears only

Photo courtesy of Bronwyn Woolman Above, the cast of Alpena Civic Theatre’s ‘Rumors’ poses at a recent rehearsal. Pictured in back, from left to right, are Matt Southwell as Glenn, Ashley Wheelock as Cassie, Nick Hartman as Lenny and Tracie Papin as Claire. In front, from left, are Taylor Ayotte as Pudney, Ely Irving as Ernie, Amanda Hulsey as Cookie, Curt Hampton as Ken, Laura Wolosiewicz as Chris and Dani Ayotte as Welsh.

Picture a woman rolling her eyes as her husband tells tall tales in an attempt to evade trouble. Now add a gunshot, suicide attempt, car accident, spousal abuse and a few bloody ears, hands and noses, and you’re starting to see what “Rumors” is all about. But does anyone ever really know?

A talented cast grabs the audience’s attention immediately in a fast-paced sarcastic comedy fit for adults only, as the language is as strong and colorful as the whiskey and blood on stage.

Fan favorites and a few newcomers played to an uproarious crowd Saturday at Alpena Civic Theatre in the Neil Simon play, which takes a jaded view of the wedded life from the warped perspective of four somewhat dysfunctional couples. As these couples are herded on stage, two-by-two, scene by scene, the audience gets an intimate glimpse into the lives of each pair as they bicker and sweat over what to do about the precarious situation they have all found themselves in.

They thought they were just attending a dinner party celebrating their friends’ Charlie and Myra’s 10th anniversary, but events snowball and white lies turn into a cloudy haze of deception and suspicion until no one is quite sure who is to blame, or what has really happened. It appears that Charlie had an “accident” with a gun, which may or may not have been a suicide attempt, and Myra is nowhere to be found. The servants are missing as well, and dinner guests are left to their own devices as to what transpired, or what should be done now. As they reach for drink after drink, their ideas get loftier and their inhibitions disappear, thus producing an even more interesting situation.

The first couple on scene is Ken and Chris Gorman, played by returning actors Curt Hampton and Laura Wolosiewicz, who lighten what could be a dark mood by mishearing and confusing each other throughout the show. She’s on the phone with the doctor, who has been pulled from “Phantom of the Opera,” and her husband is telling her what to say, but she’s nervous and getting it all wrong. She’s the stressed-out wife, searching for a cigarette to take the edge off, and he’s the “Don’t worry, I’ll handle it” husband who she knows can’t really handle it.

In her premier ACT performance, Tracie Papin is an eye-rolling, sarcastic delight as Claire Ganz, with possibly the most hilarious one-liners of anyone else on stage.

For example, in the middle of a heated discussion regarding what to say or not say about the gunshot and attempted suicide, she peeks out the window at the next couple coming up the driveway and says, “I can’t believe she’s wearing a dress like that to a party like this.”

She is clearly annoyed by almost everything her husband Lenny says, but he’s the one who ultimately attempts to wipe the slate clean for everyone with a smooth story for the cops.

An impressive, rambling soliloquy by veteran ACT player Nick Hartman as Lenny Ganz displays his incredible acting ability toward the end of this play. He also has some perfectly-timed lines for comedic effect, such as this one in response to the food having too much cholesterol, “We didn’t come here to live longer, we came here to have fun.”

Returning actors Ely Irving and Amanda Hulsey do not disappoint, playing lovey-dovey couple Ernie and Cookie Cusack, whose pet names are enough to make anyone gag, let alone a handful of couples with their own marital issues. Hulsey’s character Cookie is dumb to a baffling degree, but as sweet as the pie she bakes. And her back problems add an element of shock throughout, as she periodically winces in extreme pain with no warning. At one point, Irving (Ernie) gets irritated to the point of nearly foaming at the mouth, and his fury is so real it’s almost scary.

The fourth couple to stumble into this mess is fan favorite Matt Southwell and newcomer Ashley Wheelock as Glenn and Cassie Cooper. Wheelock’s portrayal of a hyper-jealous wife, Cassie, probably had every man sitting up very straight in their seats as she scolded and shamed her husband Glenn, who has no idea what she really wants, but tries to please her nonetheless.

“You scowled at every dress I tried on,” Cassie Cooper told her husband.

“Sometimes I don’t look at you because I’m afraid you won’t like the way I’m looking at you,” Glenn responded in an exasperated tone.

In their first appearance on ACT’s stage, mother and daughter Dani Ayotte (Welsh) and Taylor Ayotte (Pudney) play a very convincing police officer duo called to investigate the suspicious activity at this late-night party.

Every little thing is overdramatic in this play, keeping emotions alive both on stage and in the audience. Playgoers jump at one outlandish surprise and anticipate the next, which could be anything from a bloody arm to a deafening thud that causes ringing in the ears.

“You know what this party’s beginning to remind me of?” Claire Ganz asks no one in particular. “Platoon.”

Rest assured, there’s not a boring moment in this action-packed comedy that will have audiences buzzing long after the lights go down.