At SBCC Garvin Theatre, Friday, July 11.

In Rumors, Raymond Wallenthin as Ken Gorman (standing) and Dan Gunther and Nancy Nufer as Lenny and Claire Ganz (seated) are caught in a web of hysterically funny lies.

Upstairs, Charley Brock, the deputy mayor of New York, is recovering from a minor, apparently self-inflicted bullet wound, while below, in the living room of the Brock’s elegant, old-fashioned New York mansion, four couples participate in a kind of inadvertent contest to see who can make up the most outlandish story about what happened to him. This set-up could go any number of ways, but with the witty writing of Neil Simon, the expert direction of Judy Garey, and an outstanding cast of Santa Barbara’s best comic actors, SBCC Theatre Group’s current production of Rumors winds up a hit. Every performance is carefully crafted, and then exuberantly uncorked, like a volley of champagne bottles that keep on popping.

The Gormans, Ken (Raymond Wallenthin) and Chris (Lisa Gates), get the first round. They arrive at the Brock house and find Charley. As Chris, Gates uses her hysterical opening ordeal on the telephone to set the tone for virtually everything to come. Meanwhile Wallenthin modulates effectively through Ken’s slapstick excursion into temporary deafness.

Lenny Ganz (Dan Gunther) and Claire Ganz (Nancy Nufer) are the next to arrive, and they quickly see through the Gorman’s inept attempts to conceal the situation upstairs. These are two of the best comic actors anywhere. Nufer creates devastating reaction humor out of barely arrested movements and artfully raised eyebrows. As Lenny Ganz, Gunther nearly steals the show, especially in the second act, when he pretends to be his friend Charley Brock.

Tiffany Story gets some of the night’s biggest laughs and a huge share of the audience’s sympathy as Cookie Cusack, the loopy star of a television cooking show. As her husband, the psychiatrist Ernie Cusack, Don Margolin finds all kinds of outlets for his physical comedy and snappy comebacks.

Using their own zany brand of marital conflict, Glenn Cooper (Martin Bell) and his wife, Cassie Cooper (Charmaine Bostwick), succeed in bringing things to a boil. Bostwick has a devilish turn as a woman bent on making her husband jealous, and Cooper does a wonderful job as an Eliot Spitzer-like politician.

By the time the police show up, everyone is ready for some law and order, a desire which Joe Beck, as Officer Welch, and Lilia Bella, as Officer Pudney, at once satisfy and thwart. Beck is particularly good in a role that requires tremendous self-possession and comic timing. Congratulations to everyone involved in this summertime comedy treat.


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