TGIF: ‘Rumors’ the next extraordinary production at Lyric

Brownwood Bulletin
Gene Deason

Imagine showing up for a dinner party celebrating a wedding anniversary, only to find that the host is unconscious with a gunshot wound, his wife is gone, and the kitchen staff is AWOL. As other guests start arriving, what’s a person to do?

What you do is, make some stuff up — hoping to help your friend save face. And, as is often the case when a party goes off the rails, it’s all fun and games until the cops arrive.

The plot of Neil Simon’s “Rumors” is much more complicated than that, but untangling the actual events from the series of nonsensical explanations concerning what has happened is left to the audience. If you happen to find yourself as a member of an audience in one of the forthcoming shows at Brownwood’s Lyric Theatre, you will be simultaneously cringing and cackling at the obvious gaps in their varied stories.

“Rumors” is the next production being offered to the greater Brownwood community this year, a year that promises to be the busiest the venue has seen since its reopening in December 2014. With a series of movies being shown on selected weekends, and its use by other organizations for fund-raisers in addition to the live theater schedule, the Lyric is emerging from a 2020 that left it all but dark due to the pandemic.

Yes, that deserves a round of applause.

The lingering effects of COVID-19 aren’t completely over, though. Concessions will continue to be ordered in advance and delivered to your seat. Also, for potential audience members still reluctant to put aside physical separation recommendations, a performance with groups socially distanced — and with entire rows alternatingly left vacant — is offered at the matinee a week from today. Direct your computer’s curser, or the pointer finger using your phone, to that date to make your reservations.

 The eight-show run opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday, with additional performances set for 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Four more shows are planned next weekend, at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 23; 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24; and the final performance at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 25.

“Rumors” is being directed by Dr. Nancy Jo Humfeld, and she has been telegraphing the high level of quality this cast is bringing to the stage, as well as the skillfully crafted dialogue that’s a trademark of Neil Simon. It began with the first reading of the script, a session which by her report found cast members holding back their own laughter. Imagine how much funnier it is when those words find life as they as spoken from the stage.

 I’m not the only one who can’t avoid drawing a comparison between “Rumors” and the most recent Lyric show, “Clue.” Admittedly, the playwright is different, the setting is different, and the era is different. OK, maybe we’re grasping at straws to find those comparisons. But both shows take place around a dinner party with accomplished individuals as guests. Both shows find humor in a dark situation. And both shows present the audience with a mystery that isn’t resolved until the end.

In the case of “Rumors,” let’s amend that to say the mystery is apparently resolved. You’ll understand after you see it. Also in the case of “Rumors,” audience members for both shows will recognize the several actors who have made a quick turnaround to memorize lines and take the spotlight again.

However, the Lyric continues to add talent to its troupe. Two of the performers in “Rumors” are on this Brownwood stage for the first time, and four others are in their second show. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are rookies to the art. More than half of the 10 actors in the production have significant theatrical training and experience, Humfeld said, including performing in some prestigious venues, which is unusual for community productions in a city the size of Brownwood.

Whenever my column touches on the Lyric Theatre, I feel the need to offer some transparency. I’ve been a volunteer there for a number of years. Perhaps my passion is obvious. I’m trying to throttle myself and be objective, but it’s easy to get carried away. The restoration of the 1914 theater was an amazing feat, and many deserve credit. But the continued high quality of shows with their volunteer casts drawn from members of the local community is an even greater accomplishment.

Because more seats are available for “Rumors” than have been for a Lyric show in more than a year, everyone who wants to see it should be able to get a ticket. That wasn’t the case when the pandemic limited seat availability.  

Downtown Brownwood is more vibrant than it’s been in generations. Why not plan dinner — or lunch — and then walk a block or two and take in a show, a quality Neil Simon show? You’ll have a great time.

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column “TGIF” appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at tgifcolumn@yahoo.com.