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Simon Says 'Stay Home'

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My favorite characters in Neil Simon's Rumors are Charlie and Myra, because they never once take the stage. They are only ever talked about, never seen -- a condition that might improve this tired farce if it were to exist in every corner. Phoenix Theatre last week joined the parade of local companies that believe that something -- anything! -- authored by Simon will bring a box office bonanza. For my money, all it brought was an upset stomach and a new resolve to never, ever sit through a Simon play again.

The company has turned out as capable a production of this hoary old comedy as can be found on any stage. A more-than-competent cast and some dexterous (if mostly uninteresting) direction keep this claptrap chugging along, but nothing -- not even the pair of amusing performances that are this production's only real bonus -- is enough to recommend this flabby farce.

For anyone lucky enough to have missed it, Rumors is the one about the group of wealthy morons who assemble at the home of their friends, a married couple who are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. The crowd spends its evening loudly guessing at the whereabouts of the wife and wondering why the husband is upstairs bleeding from a gunshot wound in his earlobe. When the police arrive, the revelers lurch into overdrive, bleating made-up stories about who they are and what they're doing there. It's all very Neil Simon, but none of it is very funny.



Phoenix Theatre, 100 North Central

Continues through November 10. Call 602-258-1974.

Simon comedies -- heck, all of his plays -- are full of despicable people, and Rumors is no exception. When one of them shrieks, "This is all too much to follow!" she is dead wrong: It's all too easy to make out what Simon is saying, because there isn't a clever character or a single complex moment in more than two hours.

There's no fun at all until Terey Summers shows up at the half-hour mark, covered in a brilliantly ugly dress and making more comedy with a single hand gesture and a giddy giggle than everything that's come before. Kim Bennett wastes his considerable talents wheezing life into Lenny, a mouthy mensch with no soul. Robert L. Harper hams it up as Ernie, and Chris Vaglio shouts his entire performance at the top of his lungs, but neither does anything remotely memorable or amusing. Not even the great, booming voice of ageless John Sankovich, whose mere presence brings style and distinction to any stage, could keep me interested in this foul twaddle.

Director Graham Whitehead has apparently instructed his players to holler and to keep moving at all cost. They occasionally stop to pose in one or another of Whitehead's perfect tableaux, but unfortunately they begin moving and speaking again, usually at the top of their lungs. At one point one of the characters wails, "This is not a game show!" Would that it were. Even a rerun of Family Feud would be more entertaining than this dated, dopey sitcom. Because no matter how you dress it up, even a well-executed Neil Simon comedy is like a trip to your flatulent Aunt Millie's: You might get a little treat, but the visit still stinks.

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