Bowie's 2nd Star Productions has a winning season opener in Neil Simon's 1988 play, "Rumors." The cast generally succeeds at delivering rapid-fire dialogue laced with comic one-liners, and at executing the lightning-paced demands of choreographed entrances and exits.
In "Rumors," America's most successful playwright uses his rapier wit to deflate the cast of self-absorbed, unlikable wealthy New Yorkers who practice law, accounting, psychiatry, state politics and culinary arts. We enjoy their discomfort at injuries to their cherished BMWs, or to their klutzy selves with whiplash, temporary deafness, burned fingers and a flushed-down-the-toilet new-age crystal. These close-knit hyper-achievers share a common family physician and trade gossip at the same country club.
Set in contemporary New York City, the action takes place during an evening when four couples gather at the home of New York Deputy Mayor Charlie Brock and his wife, Myra, to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary. No host or servant greet the first-arriving couple, who then let the other guests in, causing confusion to each in turn.
First at the party are corporate-lawyer couple Ken and Chris Gorman, who hear shots and begin fabricating a story to explain Charlie's self-inflicted wound to the earlobe and Myra's absence. Arriving next are accountant Lenny and his wife, Claire Ganz, who accept the Gormans' explanation of their hosts' absence but embellish with the arrival of the next couple.
Psychiatrist Ernie Cusack and his television-cook wife, Cookie, notice the conflicting explanations proffered for their hosts' absence and set about to salvage the evening, despite Ernie's scheduled conference-call group therapy session. Back pain doesn't prevent Cookie from gamely preparing dinner, while Ernie serves as butler and bartender.
Last to arrive are sparring state senate candidate Glenn Cooper and his crystal-toting jealous wife, Cassie. The action grows more hilarious as the guests tell varied stories to each other until even the Gormans - the earliest arrivals - seem confused.
Outstanding in 2nd Star's production are Dani Wildason, coolly sly as Claire Ganz, and hilariously frantic Nancy Dall as Chris Gorman. Masterful performances are given by their stage-husbands Edward Kuhl, an uninhibited riot as blustery lawyer Ken Gorman, and skilled comedian Todd Cunningham, who portrays steely accountant Lenny Ganz, owner of the smashed BMW.
Jerry Khatcheressian is brilliant as Ernie Cusack, who emits greedy vibrations and false warmth and takes group therapy to new heights. Susan Weber as Cookie Cusack is a riot as she reacts to back spasms that grow in intensity and comedy.
The one guest who maintains a controlled composure is the would-be state senator, Glenn Cooper, perfectly played by David O'Brien. As his wife, Cassie, Lisa Swann conveys total self-absorption along with a brat's propensity toward tantrums.
The only sensible characters in the play are Officer Welch, crisply played by Al Chopey, and Officer Pudney, a minor role adequately acted by Joanne D. Wilson.
It is almost inevitable that with reams of dialogue required to portray characters Ken Gorman and Lenny Ganz, there would be some flubbed lines, and there were a few on opening weekend, but they hardly diminished the over-the-top performances by Kuhl and Cunningham.
My one reservation about 2nd Star's production concerns the set, which does little to indicate a lavish, upscale dwelling of prominent New Yorkers. The wall treatment would work with the addition of convincing framed art, and the powder room wall demands small art hanging to complete the illusion.
Above all, the furniture seems reminiscent of '60s middle-class plastic, not Millennium Manhattan.
Weekend performances continue through Sept. 23 at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park. Tickets are $15 general admission and $12 for seniors and students. Reservations: 410-757-5700 or 301-858-7245.