Brighton Year-Round 2020
Directed by Tina Sitko, with Stephen Evans Assistant Director. Set Design, Construction and Painting Steven Adams, Set Construction Rob Punter, Cast and Crew. Lighting and Sound Design Steven Adams and Stephen Evans, Lighting and Sound Operation Faye Woodbridge. Costumes Myles Locke, Cast and Crew. Photography Miles Davies.
1989. So there’s a shot as you’re arriving at your friends’ the Brocks tenth wedding anniversary and you find the host upstairs with a bullet through his ear-lobe and his wife nowhere to be found. Has she left him? Has he taken too many Valiums? Nor – even worse – the kitchen staff who’ve left food prepared but waiting to be cooked. And you’re Ken Gorman Charlie’s lawyer and Charlie Brock’s Deputy Mayor of New York so if this gets out you tell your lawyer-wife Chris – he’s finished. That’s when you’ve got Rumors.
Don’t tell the doctor whom they’ve called, twice, it’s just Charlie fell downstairs. Don’t tell Charlie’s stockbroker Lenny Ganz and club-woman wife Claire who arrive. Certainly don’t tell the Cusacks, Bernie Charlie’s psychotherapist and Cookie the er TV cook. Except the same doctor keeps calling back (furious to be dragged out of Phantom of the Opera) because Lenny’s had someone crash into his BMW and given him whiplash, and Cookie has a stiff back. As they discover he’s everyone’s doctor. And then running-for-State-Senate Glenn Cooper and his princess-of-crystals-and-tantrums wife Cassie arrive. At some point she smashes Glenn’s nose, so there’s blood on his shirt; and Ken has Charlie’s blood on his front. And so when the police arrive… That’s when you’ve got Rumors. No. Lies. But at least with Cookie you get dinner. Though she and Bernie get their fingers literally burnt.
Neil Simon’s 1988 first farce was designed round a sense of a Moliere play with everyone dressed-up in evening finery. It’s the most difficult genre for even the Little Theatre guild to pull off. Theatre critic Michael Coveney’s declaring he wants to concentrate on the talent in amateur theatre is most welcome. Some of us hesitate to make even that pro-am distinction when confronted with BLT productions.
Sparklingly directed by Tina Sitko, with Stephen Evans Assistant Director there’s a black-and-white set design by Steven Adams – who’s responsible for construction and painting too (aided by Rob Punter et al). With a staircase upstage, two doors one at the head and a back door, and two stage left, this is a set tailored for French farce but located in Sneden’s Landing, New York.
And it’s sumptuous. Doors are painted with black-and-white diagonals, the back wall’s festooned with photos, the cocktail cabinet stage right glitters. Lighting and sound design – the former pretty constant, the gunshots and music occasional – are also courtesy of Steven Adams and Stephen Evans (operation Faye Woodbridge). Myles Locke’s costumes are rather extraordinary, especially Cookie’s famed 70 year old Russian dress. And a few cumberbands.
This is a farce played fast and furious or not at all. It needs clarity and controlled vehemence, the crisp sardonic twang of rich New Yorkers and the undersong of entitlement under siege. Everyone’s teetering on the bubble reputation. Charlie and Glen have reputations to lose, the others their livelihoods. The edifice of preserving Charlie – ken’s idea – endangers them all. Even when finally everyone bar the police know, or think they know, what’s occurin’, there’s known unknowns, like the second gunshot deafening Ken, then his curing making him preternaturally able to hear conversations outside through locked doors. Because another unknown, that crystal princess, is a mite unpredictable with her temper. And there’s the aural confusion of Ken, Len, Glenn. That’s when you’ve got Rumors. And the police don’t like them.
Leigh Ward is terrifically coiled as the lean lunging lawyer terrified for his client. Laura Scobie’s Chris is a superb slow meltdown of a part, Scobie making the most of Chris’ flaking out of the absurdities she’s asked to contort weighed against the alcohol she’s consuming, all in a glamorous red dress. It’s too much and Scobie deliciously proves it in a gin-bath melt.
David Villiers as Lenny Ganz seems the ultimate pragmatist at first, tell all, but soon comes round. Burling through everything with that infuriating bluffness especially gifted to financial speculators, he has the great set speech though and by the end comes out the surprising hero. Villiers conveys the venality, the physicality of a man under whiplash whose soul seems one long bank statement till more important things overwhelm him.
Frankie Knight’s coping-women’s-club Claire has with Knight an almost Connie Booth role attempting to normalize things, ministering to all whilst the penetrating Bernie – Jenny Davys – acts with delicious shrewdness, penetrating all the idiot lies paraded in front of her. And she’s a dab hand at burnt fingers. You get a sense of concentration and reserve in Davys’ performance.
Josie Durand has the most physically slapstick role, where she must jerk spasmodically in sudden pain, get on all fours or sidle out through a door wincing. Then act daffy through it, coming out with non-sequiturs. She smashes it too.
Peter Howard’s Glen is a study in headlight-staring, terrified of his reputation, his wife and the police in that order. And a mysterious phone call for him that everyone else takes first. Is it Myra? Are they really having an affair? That’s… yes Rumors. Howard bumps up schoolboy pomposity, aka fear of being found a fraud – something all these characters with the possible exception of the Cusacks live under.
Liana Andrews’ Cassie is an acid drop delight as the spoilt entitlement junkie whose prize crystal gets dropped down the toilet – crystals so precious you have to wash them in rainwater and rub with special cloths. Andrews’ BPD-ish swerve from spitting venom to curling on two other husbands’ laps in blatant provocation adds luxury purring to a slimmer part. And clears Ken’s ears by accident.
Finally Suzanne Heritage’s wiseacreing Officer Welch full of Brooklyn drawl, and her wondrously squeaky sidekick Millie Edinburgh’s Officer Pudney complete a line-up which is near-faultless in delivery. The three parts re-gendered to women make this effervescent comedy less predictable in its stodgier parts – the policemen for instance – and keeps it in the air.
It’s the officers who demands explanations. And Lenny’s drawn the short straw to pretend to be Charlie. What happens is the great set speech of the play, as Lenny/Charlie explains in virtuosic detail something he makes up as he goes along. But the weird thing is he’s relishing it, he’s never been so alive as when his career’s on the line and he’s doing something no stockbroker does: takes risks without money. There’s consequences. And then in the last line of the play, something no-one could possibly have predicted. Not even Lenny, who sort of did.
And the police unravel some answers too, like the people in the car who hit Lenny new BMW (which Cassie further stoves in) and whose surprise car it turns out to be. Simon’s plot neatly ties up some loose ends so well they’re in danger of becoming a lasso.
This is a sublimely silly farce through its veils of smartness sophisticated anxieties and fire-cracking quips. BLT deliver with panache and punch. Believe the whispers.