MOUNT VERNON — There is one golden rule of farce: Timing is everything. Poorly performed farce, with slow lines and implausible plot turns, can be painfully unfunny. I’ve seen productions of Neil Simon farces before that made me long for the fun of algebra, made me wish I was getting a root canal without anesthetic instead. But when it is done with the speed and precision of a sports car driving a curvy road, the giggles can make your head spin.
“Rumors,” which opened Friday night at The Alcove Dinner Theater, was running at about 95 percent throttle, making for a fine, fun evening. Under the sure hand of director Bruce Jacklin, the skilled cast whipped up a plot involving more deceptions and confusions than could possibly be summarized here. Suffice it to say that the show hits the ground running and only pauses at a few points in Act Two when events get so confused that the characters pause to gawk at each other in befuddled confusion while the audience is reduced to helpless laughter.
With a show like this, the ensemble is tight and interwoven. So, for lack of a better approach, let’s look at the men, in order of role size, from biggest on down. Richard McKinley caps the show as Lenny, the one saddled with the responsibility of explaining the chaos to the police who show up at the end of the show. McKinley tears through that marathon monologue as sure-footedly as a mountain goat, and makes the most of the show’s craziness in every moment he’s on stage. Jacklin, as Ken, often plays straight man to other characters, and with a veteran’s skill, he sets the fast pace at key moments in the show, earning his own laughs, too.
Steve Stone perfectly captures the personality of mental therapist Ernie, balancing soothing grandness with pompous cluelessness. Gary Hyman uses his constantly darting eyes to hilariously portray politician Glenn Cooper, always busy looking around to see how others are looking at him. And in an important cameo, assistant director Ian Ernsberger plays a police officer who nearly goes ballistic on the assembled crew as they try to hide the real crises with an absurd list of fake crises.
On to the women. Laura Miller energizes the show with her portrayal of the nervous, flighty Chris, doing as much to establish pace as Jacklin. Mary Rugola-Dye establishes her character, Claire, as a regal upper class lady, then deftly undercuts the poise with bug-eyed expressions and jaunty sarcasm. Susan Moreland steals the show in a number of places as Cookie, the kind of deliciously air-headed character that is so dense, the word stupid has to be spelled “stoopid” to capture her daffiness.
Wendy Fairchild lends a striking, statuesque beauty to the role of Cassie, the politician’s bitter wife, and she scores her biggest points vamping the other men to annoy her husband. Assistant stage manager Jennifer Casner even gets in on the act, playing the assistant police officer investigating the scene with lowered eyelids and raised brows. If that’s not enough, even stage manager Kate Redfield makes a contribution that scores its own laugh.
With a cast like this, there’s little doubt that as the run progresses, they’ll let out the throttle that final 5 percent and up the ante to the max. The costumes are a visual feast, a nice contrast with the elegant, subdued set, and the lights and sound are crisp. So if you’re looking for the skinny on having a good time in Mount Vernon, check out “Rumors.”