Davidson Theatre’s “Rumors” : High Comedy, 80’s Style

By: Sam Giberga ’19

Guest Contributor

L to R: Savannah Deal ’18 as Chris Gorman; Hannah Lieberman ’18 as Claire Ganz; and Theo Ebarb ’18 as Lenny Ganz. Courtesy of Davidson Theatre.

This past Friday I went to see Rumors. I did not, at first, intend to see Rumors that evening. I originally intended to go into Charlotte and see Ripe (it’s a band; first-years, just ask any SAE upperclassman for details). But I’d had a bad day. I was stressed, and not in any state of mind for a trek into Charlotte—no, not even for Ripe. So, I decided to go see Rumors instead. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that I have never felt as pleased with a decision. Rumors, a comedy written by Neil Simon and directed by the Theatre Department’s Ann Marie Costa, made me laugh more than I have laughed at any piece of theater I have yet seen at Davidson. It earned every obnoxious guffaw that left my mouth.

First, kudos must be given to the set design by Anita Tripathi and the production team behind Rumors. I really despise having to use the word “literally.” So when I say that the production team “literally” built a house in the Duke Family Performance hall, you must understand that I mean it. As a rising senior, I confess myself disappointed to see the set go—if the Duke Family Performance Hall had decided to keep the structure for at least another year, it may have served as an apartment for the unfortunate juniors who are looking for a viable living space during their senior year.

From the broad arched windows and the fully realized balcony, to the elegant living room (which houses most of the play’s action), the scenic design team constructed a set that simultaneously gives the audience plenty to view, but gives the cast a space intimate enough to make their own. The sheer scale and breadth of the set inspires a sense of wonder in the audience, but something nostalgic and oddly familiar underlies its massiveness. The entire set, down to the most minute detail, is shrouded in a certain 1980’s ambience. Floral pattern sofas. Fake plants. Round chairs. The paintings. The chandeliers. The wallpaper. The windows—the list goes on and on. The beauty is in the subtlety, in the minute details. That theme—subtlety—will recur throughout this review. I was not born in the 1980s, and I certainly do not consider myself a scholar and/or savant of 80’s décor, but this set would give Stranger Things a run for its Netflix blood-money.

But that’s enough about the set. Let’s talk about this marvelous menagerie of actors that filled this amazing set. Seniors Savannah Deal ’18, Theo Ebarb ’18, Ed Pritchard ’18, Hannah Lieberman ’18, and Andrew Lott ’18 lead an all-star ensemble alongside the extremely versatile Siri Norris ’19, the hilarious Deya Bowers ’19, the talented Giacomo Eisler ’19, and two exciting newcomers to the theater department: Kotaro Horiuchi ’20 (who quit the Davidson tennis team to pursue acting) and Yeonjae Han ’19.

Savannah and Ed open the show mid-crisis: the first time we see them, as Chris and Ken Gorman, respectively, they find themselves mitigating the attempted suicide of their dear friend—coincidentally, the Deputy Mayor of New York—mere hours prior to his tenth anniversary party. Despite the morbidity of the inciting incident, Deal and Pritchard capture the slightly manic panic of the situation in a way that, in the context of Neil Simon’s comedy, lets the audience know that it will, in fact, be tolerable to laugh hysterically at the plight of the show’s heroes.

And then—well, then Theo Ebarb and Hannah Lieberman enter the stage as Lenny and Claire Ganz. From there, the show descends into a vortex of comical farce that draws both audience and houseguest into its gravitational pull as each additional character brings their own unique and similarly ridiculous foibles to what was original a bourgeois dinner party. Dramatic irony abounds, and suddenly the we find ourselves thrust into a moving semblance of Da Vinci’s Last Supper—that is, if the Renaissance painter had just binged a boxset of young Michael J. Fox movies.

Highlights from the cast number in the hundreds for the play, but here are just a few: Andrew Lott, who plays Ernie Cusack, a successful psychoanalyst with an unexpectedly explosive temper, brings a certain degree of nerdy, dad-like charm to every scene he appears in—his dorky musings at being mistook for a butler garnered laughs from all corners of the audience. Deya Bowers, in the role of Ernie’s wife Cookie (aptly named, for Cookie is, in fact, a television cook), remains devoted to her character’s thrown-out back throughout the entirety of the show—at times, Cookie’s back pain seems so real that one can’t but wonder if Bowers experiences actual back agony onstage. Siri Norris, in the role of Cassie Cooper, strides onto the stage with an elegance and a facial expressiveness that continues to amaze Davidson audiences.

Pritchard is hilarious in his portrayal of Ken Gorman. After temporarily losing his hearing due to a misfired gunshot toward the beginning of the play, the character’s humor develops around his physicality as well as his hilarious misunderstandings. Moments of Ken-based hilarity include crawling around on the floor following mysterious yet “cat sounds.” Pritchard brings his own unique energy to the role—a naïveté accented by a heroic passion that, given the absurdity of the play, becomes delightful and fascinating to watch.

Theo Ebarb’s climactic speech as Lenny Ganz towards the end of the show deserves special mention. His speech not only earns the boisterous laughter of the audience, but its respect as well. The feat that his speech encompasses (a speech four pages long in the script), cannot be understated, and Ebarb executes it masterfully.

As mentioned earlier, subtlety defines the success of the performance as much as the grand overtures. Savannah Deal has truly remarkable instincts and stage presence. During any and all interactions and/or conversations onstage, I always found myself drawn to watching Savannah’s reaction. She was deeply immersed in her character and the ensemble stood only to gain and build off of her presence.

Similarly, Hannah Lieberman’s Claire Ganz is delightful to watch—not one to miss a beat, her comedic timing is impeccable.

But you know what the best thing about the whole show was? Underlying that subtlety that this immensely talented cast brings to the show there exists that special “something,” that undeniable essence that makes this production distinctly Davidsonian. Maybe it’s the absolute and almost joyful embrace of the anxiety that pervades the story, or maybe it’s the cast’s masochistic willingness to throw itself headlong into the absurdity of the play’s situational irony. Whatever “it” was, I could not shake the uncanny yet oddly comforting feeling that I was watching a play about a bunch of Davidson students—clever to a fault, sardonic, determined-but-in-way-over-their-heads, and drawn to dark irony—except all grown up and successful and living in the 1980s. Sitting in the Duke Family Performance Hall, I could not help but feel at home with the characters that these actors built.

So there you have it. I left the DFPH on Friday (and again on Sunday) feeling happy, full of joy, and full of pain in my sides from laughing. Look, I’m really sorry for what I’m about to say here but, rumor has it that Rumors was another unqualified success from the Davidson Theatre Department. In the words of the Lenny Ganz, Rumors may very well have been “the best goddamn time I ever had in my life.”

Sam Giberga ‘19 is a History major from Covington, LA. He can be reached for comment at sagiberga@davidson.edu.

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