Raymond Wallenthin, Lisa Gates, Dan Gunther and Nancy Nufer star in the Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group’s production of Neil Simon’s Rumors.

The Santa Barbara City College Theatre Group is offering an especially delectable entertainment this month in the form of a production of Neil Simon‘s 1988 comedy, Rumors. It will bring its 2007-08 season to a side-splitting end.

Directed by Judey Garey, Rumors will star Nancy Nufer, Dan Gunther, Joseph Beck, Martin Bell, Lilia Bello, Charmaine Bostwick, Lisa Gates, Don Margolin, Tiffany Story and Raymond Wallenthin. The farce shows in the spacious and comfortable Garvin Theater on the West Campus of the city college now through July 26. It was previewed Tuesday and Wednesday, and there will be a performance captioned for the hearing impaired on Sunday.

Rumors is set in the tastefully renovated New York home of Charley and Myra Brock, whom the audience never sees. The Brocks are throwing a 10th anniversary party for themselves and have invited four couples who are their closest friends.

When the first couple arrive, they find Charley in an upstairs bedroom, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the ear lobe. He has shot himself. Myra is nowhere to be found. The first couple — Charlie’s lawyer and his wife, who is trying to quit smoking — attempt to conceal the facts of the Brocks’ injury and disappearance from the other guests. They fail.


Neil Simon

The next pair to arrive have had a costly fender-bender on their way to the party. The comic confusion increases exponentially with the arrival of each couple, until the police arrive. Since the four couples have concocted a fantastic and utterly improbable explanation of the evening’s events, the cops can’t seem to make heads nor tails of the matter, either.

By just about any measure, Simon was one of the most successful playwrights of the 20th century. While purists might argue that what he wrote were not really plays but extended situation comedies where improbably clever people in a fixed milieu trade hilarious insults — a kind of No Exit-lite — there is virtually no other playwright I can think of who can make an audience laugh as loudly and as often as Simon.

As Brander Matthews said almost 100 years ago, the greatest as well as the most successful dramatists tend to be those who reflect their contemporary societies, not those who race ahead of their times.

There is a legitimate model for Simon’s somewhat formless and formulaic plays: those of Chekov — and, indeed, an early play of Simon’s, The Good Doctor, was an adaptation of some Chekov short stories. Of course, there are a great many more laughs in The Odd Couple or The Goodbye Girl than there are in The Seagull or The Cherry Orchard.

For times and tickets, call the Garvin box office at 805.965.5935.

Gerald Carpenter covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.