Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy at Progress Energy Center
Through June 15
Theatre in the Park
Through June 28
Fans of farce have their pick of shows when it comes to local theater. The annual summer series Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy (an unfortunately literal title during this heat wave) opens its season with Neil Simon’s 1988 play Rumors, while Theatre in the Park has Dearly Beloved by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten. Both feature energetic direction and performances, and both also suffer from weak scripts.
Rumors takes the form of an upscale drawing-room comedy, with virtually every beat of action punctuated by a slamming door. A dinner party for the deputy mayor of New York has gone horribly awry, with two of the guests (Lynda Clark and Eric Carl, reuniting from Theatre in the Park’s recent production of Angels in America), arriving to find the servants gone, the hostess missing, and the host with a bullet through his earlobe. The situation grows more and more out of hand as more guests arrive, but the plot feels self-conscious and stuck in the 1980s, with lame running gags about crystals and the characters’ similar names. (Note to aspiring playwrights: Naming the male characters “Ken,” “Len” and “Glenn” is mildly clever; having several conversations that point this out is not.)
The actors put everything into their performances (particularly the droll Martin Thompson as bespectacled Lenny Ganz) and, at the performance I attended, managed to remain professional despite a fire alarm that forced an impromptu intermission. The problem is with the material, which is Simon at his sitcom-iest. If that’s your thing, this play is for you.
Dearly Beloved is on the opposite end of the social spectrum from the upper-crust parody of Rumors. The play is the first of a series set in the small town of Fayro, Texas, emphasizing the trials and tribulations of the Futrelle sisters, a trio of middle-aged women who once performed as a gospel group called “The Sermonettes.” If you laughed at that name, then you have an idea of the play’s humor.
Directed by Ira David Wood III, Beloved chronicles the events of a massively disastrous wedding that features government cheese for catering, a UPS delivery man in a too-short robe as the minister, and the bride and groom nowhere to be found. Wood keeps the action moving, but like Rumors, the play has the feel of a broad, 1980s-era sitcom, with running gags about hot flashes and bull insemination. Again, there’s some good work, particularly Larry Evans’ physical comedy as doped-up guest Wylie Hicks, but the script’s crowd-pleasing humor lacks the wit found in an average episode of King of the Hill. Your enjoyment might depend on how many low-budget Southern weddings you’ve been forced to attend. —Zack Smith