The deputy mayor of New York lies bleeding on the floor and his wife is missing — just in time for their 10th wedding anniversary party: thus opens “Rumors,” a farcical play by Neil Simon, now showing at the Kelley Theatre.
The show begins when the first guests arrive at the party and try to cover up the situation. As more couples arrive, they try harder to prevent scandal, and only succeed in creating confusion — and hilarity.
“When you think of farce, you think of wacky, door-slamming fun, and that’s exactly what this is,” said Ron Paoletti, director for the Stuttgart Theatre Center performance. “Its characters find themselves in bizarre situations and when they try to get out of them, things just get worse — and funnier.”
In fact, when the actors began rehearsals for “Rumors” in February, they couldn’t get through the first read-through of the show because of playwright Simon’s signature one-liners.
“It took us two nights to read it through because the first night we were laughing so hard,” said Joe Holder, who plays party guest and psychologist Ernie in the show.
In order to get past the giggles and memorize the lines, Holder and other actors often carried their scripts with them to work. Holder even made a recording of himself reading other characters’ lines, so that he could learn his cues.
The actors’ dedication is impressive to Paoletti.
“Everybody has day jobs, yet they’ve got to learn the material,” Paoletti said. “You’ll see them at work with a script tucked in between their briefing materials or standing in line at Subway, mumbling their lines.”
This practice is vital to a show like “Rumors,” which, in the absence of musical numbers, elaborate sets and costume changes, relies on the clever script and the actors’ delivery to keep the audience riveted.
“The challenge in a show like this is pace and timing — to keep it moving,” Paoletti said. Another directing obstacle came two weeks before opening night, when a main actor had to be replaced due to a deployment.
“Anytime we change like that, the tone changes. I have to give the cast a lot of credit for working so hard, staying with it, keeping up the pace,” Paoletti said.
The “Rumors” cast includes both stage veterans and new actors. Marissa Shams-White is joining the cast in her first major role on the stage.
Shams-White plays Cassie, a politician’s wife who believes her husband is having an affair. She spends much of her time in the spotlight yelling at her stage husband.
“I’m not a big yeller, so to do so is, I guess, cathartic,” she said.
However, she did require training. “The problem is projecting with yelling and not ruining my voice,” she said. “They’ve been giving me tips.”
Even harder than the yelling is trying not to laugh on stage, she added. “There’s some really funny parts … it’s hard to keep a straight face.”
The role of laughing is reserved for the audience, Shams-White said. “I think it’s a great way to spend an evening or an afternoon, just to get a load off and get some laughs in.”
“Rumors” is rated PG for strong adult language.
Upcoming performances are April 8, 9, 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. and April 10 and 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets cost $12 for adults, $10 for students. To reserve tickets, visit www.stuttgartmwr.com, or call the theater office at 421-3055/civ. 0711-729-3055.