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'Rumors' is a comedic tour de force

Ah, the chaos is so very sweet.

Neil Simon’s “Rumors” is probably the closest thing by America’s most prolific playwright to an out-and-out slamming-door farce. As you would expect from a superior craftsman like Simon, this one runs as smoothly as a Swiss watch.

Director Dennis D. Hennessy surrounds star John Davidson with experienced local actors in the New Theatre production. And when I say “experienced,” I’m not kidding. Most of them were in the company’s first staging of this play in 1997. The results are most impressive.

Simon is a New York playwright and this is a very New York play, but the New Theatre show never feels particularly New Yorky. Midwestern accents dominate and the producers have watered Simon’s R-rated dialogue down to PG.

Still, it’s fun to watch good actors with impeccable timing sink their teeth into this shrewdly constructed romp. The show earns honest laughs.

The set-up has a group of high-dollar sophisticates -- a doctor, an accountant, a couple of lawyers, a TV chef, a politician running for state senate -- gathering at the home of Charlie Brock, deputy mayor of New York to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary.

But when the first guests arrive, they find dinner unprepared, no cooks or wait staff to be found, Charlie (who the audience never sees) in his bedroom bleeding from an earlobe after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. And his wife is gone.

David Fritts and Cathy Barnett play Ken Gorman and his wife Chris, lawyers who are the first to arrive. Davidson plays Lenny Ganz, an accountant whose brand new BWM was broad-sided on the way to the party. Melinda McDonald is Lenny’s gossip-mongering wife, Claire.

Craig Benton is Ernie Cusack, a therapist with a ponytail, and Deb Bluford is his wife Cookie, a celebrity chef prone to back spasms. Kip Niven plays Glenn Cooper, a candidate for the state senate, and Cheryl Weaver is his embittered wife Cassie, who finds solace in quartz crystals.

Davidson delivers a very funny turn as Lenny and matches the formidable comic timing of his colleagues line for line. Fritts turns in one of his best comic performances to date and makes the most of a section of the play in which Ken is rendered temporarily deaf.

Barnett confirms her status as one of the best comedic actresses in Kansas City, creating a character who is sexy, acerbic and befuddled in one irresistible package. And Weaver is excellent as the loopy Cassie who wants to deliver a little payback for her husband’s infidelities.

Kevin Fewell and Vanessa Severo appear late in the play as cops who make a futile effort to unravel the layers of lies the party guests have invented to keep Charlie’s suicide attempt out of the papers. Fewell delivers an amusing deadpan performance and Severo demonstrates once again that she is an inherently interesting presence even when she has almost no dialogue.

To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com. “Rumors” runs through June 22 at the New Theatre Restaurant; 913-649-7469; newtheatre.com.

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