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Theater review: Comedy warning: 'Rumors' has it

Lately being a weatherman does not help you know which way the wind blows. Hurricane Harvey was a 3 that became a 4. Irma kept bouncing back between a 4 and a 5.

"Rumors," the side-splitting Neil Simon farce directed by Julie Ahasay that opened at the Duluth Playhouse on Thursday night, follows a similar pattern.

It starts off as a tropical depression, gathers strength, hits you with a powerful stream of comedy, and just when you think you are safely in the eye of the hurricane the audience is devastated by a category 5 comic monologue.

The setting the 10th anniversary party of Charlie and Myra Brock. But the first invited couple arriving upon the scene, Ken (Jason Scorich) and Chris Gorman (Julie MacIver Venhuizen), discover Charlie has been shot and Myra is missing. Since Charlie happens to be Deputy Mayor of New York, Ken decides to try and cover up whatever it was that happened.

Next to arrive are Lenny (Jody Kujawa) and Claire Ganz (Vicki Fingalson), fresh from an accident with their new BMW. Then, Ernie Cusak (Mike Pederson), an analyst who wields his pipe with authority, shows up with his wife Cookie (Sara Marie Sorenson) whose back spasms mean she cannot stand, sit or walk (but she finds another option). Finally, state senate candidate Glenn Cooper (Greg J. Anderson) and his wife Cassie (Louisa Scorich) arrive in the middle of a big argument.

I've always thought that Simon's genius was in his ability to milk a humorous situation for a long string of jokes. No doubt his talent was honed writing comedy sketches for Sid Caesar's "Your Show of Shows." Simon is even willing to make great use of the old comic chestnut of the character who mishears everything being said. That being said, two of the funniest scenes in "Rumors" are actually visual shenanigans by the cast.

The characters who are trying to cover up what is going on (not that they really know anything) have the comic advantage. Venhuizen's Chris is lying as fast as she can and then has to wait for her brain to catch up with her mouth. Fingalson turns out to have a sharp tongue to go along with her silver throat.

Of course, Kujawa spends the evening getting big laughs with his withering delivery of one comic blast after another and has the responsibility for delivering the unforgettable final coup de grâce.

As Officer Welch, Mark Venhuizen brings a welcomed Joe Friday sense of no nonsense to dealing with the assembled idiots. Ashley Whitcomb's Officer Pudney has only a couple of lines but proves she does not need them to earn laughs.

Ashley Wereley's scenic design has six soon-to-be very busy doors (some more than others), a wood-paneled floor, windows two-stories tall, one well-stocked bar — with bar stools of ottoman height — and the longest phone cord you have ever seen.

Finally, those who attended opening night were treated to the biggest bonus laugh in Playhouse history because of one slightly wrong sound cue.

If you go

• What: "Rumors" by Neil Simon

• When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 1

• Where: Duluth Playhouse, 506 W. Michigan St.

• Tickets: $30 adults, $20 youth at duluthplayhouse.org

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