In 1988, American playwright Neil Simon needed some levity in his life.
His marriage was breaking up.
His daughter’s husband had been killed in a car accident.
He knew that work – and humour – could save him. So, he sat down at the typewriter and punched out “Rumors”, his first farce.
The cast of the Harbourfront Players know that a little laughter is a good thing, too, especially during the waning days of a long winter.
So, 31 years later, the Summerside-based group has decided to stage his famous farce.
“We’re hoping the ‘Rumors’ will brighten people’s spirits and give them some belly laughs and giggles,” says cast member Steph Betts of the play that runs March 1, 2, 8 and 9, 7:30 p.m., and March 10, 2 p.m., at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside.
Members of the Harbourfront Players rehearse a scene from their play, “Rumors” in the video below:
“Rumors” is about Charley and Myra Brock, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary. They have invited all their good friends to their home in the Palisades, about an hour’s drive from New York City. Chris and Ken Gorman, who are both lawyers, are the first ones to arrive. They show up only to find Myra is missing and Charley is in the bedroom with a bullet in his earlobe. The Gormans have to find out what happened before the other guests arrive. Mayhem and hilarity ensue when the police are called.
Simon’s use of the farce form is “brilliant,” says director Marlane O’Brien.
“He really knew what he was doing. It’s a true, classic French farce. There’s one set. It takes place at one time. It starts and finishes in real time. There are six doors because there are many entrances and exits.
“Then, when you realize what he was going through at the time, it makes perfect sense when you see the show.”
It turns out that Simon’s inner struggles led him down a new playwriting road.
''This is completely different for me. It's unlike anything I've ever written,'' Simon stated in a Nov. 13, 1988, New York Times article.
Unlike writing a drama or comedy, the form was more complicated.
''A farce is relentless,'' he said. ''There are so many more obligations. It's relentless in its needs for plot twists and to keep the comedy going.”
Its classic form and the fact that it was a Broadway hit made staging the play a “bit daunting” at first for the cast.
“But it’s very exciting for the Harbourfront Players. We’re very talented, and I think we’re going to pull it off,” says Jason Rioux, who plays Ken Gorman.
Actress Shelley Schurman agrees. Compared to the other plays she’s performed in, this one is the most complicated.
“It’s the physical comedy. Actors are moving around, opening and closing doors. You’re popping in and out of the scene (in seconds). So, it’s been fun to learn that,” says Schurman, who plays Chris Gorman.
However, it’s not all laughs.
At the heart of the play, is a man (Charley Brock) who attempts to take his life because his wife is having an affair and leaves him – or so he thinks. So, for all the silliness and laughter, there are still classic Neil Simon tears.
Cast members have taken this to heart. Because of the stress that this character experiences, they are planning to make a donation to the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“It fits with one of the themes of the play,” says O’Brien, who also likes the timelessness of the script.
“The thing that makes Simon such a great comedy writer is he never sacrifices the heart of a person for a joke. So, things are funny because they come out of real pain, real feelings and real relationships.
“And we know how funny real can be.” says O’Brien.
If you are going
What: “Rumors” by Neil Simon
When and where: March 1, 2, 8 and 9, 7:30 p.m., and March 10, 2 p.m., at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside.
Tickets: Available from the box office.
Donna Gorrill is doing double duty in “Rumors”. Besides being the stage manager, she plays a police woman. “Because it’s a small role, it gives me the opportunity to do my job backstage then hop on and have some fun,” she says.
Vernon Campbell is not new to “Rumors”. He performed in it with the Kensington Theatre Company 15 years ago. “I’m very excited to be in it again,” says Campbell, who plays a policeman. “We try to bring a sense of justice to the strange goingson in that house.”