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UNCW Department of Theatre’s “Rumors” is the perfect farce to begin the 2024 performance season

“Rumors,” directed by Ed Wagenseller, is the first Mainstage Theatre production of 2024. (Courtesy of UNCW Department of Theatre)

Lights up on the interior of a clean, modern house. 

Husband and wife Ken (Andrew Page) and Chris Gorman (Elizabeth Montgomery) have just arrived at their friends’ house for an anniversary party, only to find one host missing and the other incoherent with a bullet hole through his ear. What ensues is a night full of comedy and mystery as friends gather to unravel the story of what really happened between Charley and Myra Brooks.  

Chris (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Ken Gorman (Adam Page) are the first couple to discover something is amiss at the 10th anniversary party and establish the energetic tone of the show. (Courtesy of UNCW Department of Theatre)

Benjamin Verbeck and Isabelle Gonzalez open the show with humorous in-character reminders pertaining to theater etiquette. Gonzalez shines as she interacts directly with audience members as the stern, no-nonsense Officer Pudney, while Verbeck brings a steadiness in his countenance later shown to be characteristic of Officer Welch.  

Page and Montgomery set the tone of “Rumors” with frantic, fast-paced banter. With the arrival of additional partygoers—Lenny (Michael Sayfou) and Claire Ganz (Lily Ferguson), Cookie (Victoria Gibson) and Ernie Cusack (Harrison Lewis) and Glenn (Kevin Kosicki) and Cassie Cooper (Emma Eckler)—the stage sparkles with action all the way to curtain call. 

“Rumors” showcases the power of characters who cannot seem to stay on the same page. (Courtesy of UNCW Department of Theatre)

Miscommunication is a key part of the script, which is brought to life through stellar cast performances. While miscommunication is often used to complicate otherwise tidy plots, “Rumors” showcases the power of characters who cannot seem to stay on the same page. Each new theory expands the lives of the unseen hosts and imaginative guests through recurring references to potential affairs, tennis club politics and Cookie’s back problems.  

Sayfou and Montgomery are stand-out performers in the realm of physical comedy. Both performers’ movements build in intensity as the plot progresses, culminating in Sayfou’s expressive monologue at the end of Act II. Likewise, Gibson gives a stellar performance as Cookie, combining vocal talent with animated gestures to portray the character’s eccentric personality. 

Michael Sayfou stars as “Lenny Ganz” and combines expressive physical comedy with impeccable comedic timing. (Courtesy of UNCW Department of Theatre)

Page and Ferguson provide the ideal balance to Montgomery and Sayfou, showcasing their own talent through nuanced interactions. Each couple is convincing as they bicker and work together throughout the show. Lewis, Kosicki and Eckler arrive later in the plot but stand on their own as comedic talents. 

The costumes, led by Costume Designer Mary Beth Burgiss, work in tandem with the set design to establish the classy and elegant nature of the backdrop of the play. Both the lightning and sound—designed by Benjamin Cornett and Nyla Barrow, respectively—immerse audiences in the world both inside and outside the house. Even the characters who occasionally interact offstage—notably the Coopers in the driveway and the Cusacks in the kitchen—appear to remain in the action due to well-timed lighting and sound effects.  

Engaging cast performances propel the momentum of “Rumors” from lights up to curtain call. (Courtesy of UNCW Department of Theatre)

A quote from the late Dr. Terry Rogers, Professor Emeritus within the UNCW Department of Theatre, is referenced in the show’s program and encapsulates the play best: “Life, at its best, is a farce.” 

With phenomenal acting, effective costuming and effects and clever directing by Professor Ed Wagenseller, “Rumors” is a hilarious comedy perfectly positioned to kick off the 2024 performance season.  

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