Opera House Players’ farcical spring play ‘Rumors’ will have a lot of laughs

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The Elkader Opera House Players will present Neil Simon’s “Rumors” April 14-16 and 21-23. The play is described as a “madcap, slamming door farce” set in New York City, replete with “cover-ups, deceptions, mistaken identities and a lot of huge laughs.” (Submitted photo)

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


The Elkader Opera House Players (OHP) are back on stage the next two weekends, as they present Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” described as a “madcap, slamming door farce” set in New York City, replete with “cover-ups, deceptions, mistaken identities and a lot of huge laughs.”


Lots of laughs is one of the reasons Kay Moser, an OHP veteran working on her 88th production and 10th as a director, was drawn to the play. Well, that and the fact it’s Neil Simon, which should “give the audience an idea of what to expect,” according to Moser. And what they should expect is a “dinner party gone topsy-turvy!”


“It is a comedy that entertains through situations that are highly exaggerated, extravagant and thus improbable,” Moser added. 


As co-director, a duty she shares with Tom Chandler, Moser is not only bringing life to this farce, she is also wearing a multitude of hats that goes beyond just watching rehearsals and giving suggestions. Moser is key to coordinating all the crews, creating schedules, organizing set work and communicating with the cast. 


If all goes as planned, she will have the privilege of sitting back and watching the show like the audience, listening to their reactions, witnessing their enjoyment and viewing just how all the behinds-the-scenes effort is rewarded when this diverse group of OHP volunteers comes together.  


It’s a group that has several returning cast members and some new faces—a “wonderful mix,” Moser said. But unlike the fall musical, the spring play involves a smaller cast, which lessens the overall workload, but apparently it doesn’t lessen the panic as opening night closes in. 


“We always seem to get a bit panicky about two weeks away from the show regarding finishing set details and having the lines learned. This show isn’t any different, but we also have the confidence in our cast and crews,” Moser said. 


Opening night seemed off in the distance when the OHP had their initial read-through of the show in late January. Even as they started regular rehearsals at the end of February, and over the last few weeks, the cast has spent countless hours trying to bring their farcical characters to life. 


Making up that cast are newcomers Lee Pool, Lisa Pool, Charlene Cessna and Linda Jensen, along with some familiar faces, including Bridget Camp, Jenna Pollock and Andrew Wilson, who have all taken to the stage for a few previous shows. 


As for the stage veterans, there is Cary Kann, who isn’t just in the cast. He also designed the set. Jon Banse is in the play and serving as technical director, while Mary Beth Specht is doing double duty acting and working on costumes with Barb Chandler. 


And, of course, there is the backstage crew comprised of Wendy Shea, Marge Banse and Megan Pierschbacher, who are always vital to any play coming off without a hitch. 


But what brought each of them to the stage, especially the newcomers? For Lee Pool, it was his wife’s idea. 


“My wife said we should try out for the play and so we did, [and] I thought it would be a lot of fun,” he said. 


Though he is new to the OHP stage, Pool has a solid foundation in acting, being in almost every play throughout junior high and high school, albeit 35-plus years ago. But like riding a bike, performing on stage is something you never forget how to do, and so far, the only curveball Pool has faced has been trying to remember everyone’s name, along with the lines in the dialogue-heavy play. 


He portrays Lenny Ganz, a “big goofy, sarcastic jerk who is rude to his wife.” It’s a mystery if Lenny will have a happy ending to the rudeness, but Pool is excited to hear the crowd laughing as they find out. 


For Pool, a lot of laughs, is why people should come to the show. 


“From beginning to end, the laughs never stop,” he said. 


Banse’s history with the theater dates back to his mother, who was actively involved in community theater and behind-the-scenes at The Old Creamery Productions in Garrison, later Amana. Since 1995, he has been a mainstay in the OHP. 


This play attracted his attention because the spring play is typically “mad cap, off handedly humorous (and a bit naughty) in nature.”


However, Banse didn’t start out in the role of Dr. Ernie Cusak, a psychoanalyst who attempts to provide therapeutic strategies to an utterly crazy situation. Originally, he was going to direct alongside Moser, but when the OHP found themselves short a male actor, he stepped into the role. 


One of the reasons behind that decision is a love of performing in front of people and seeing their reactions. It’s something Banse said is “fulfilling.” 


It’s also made easier by the group of people he’s working with, the amazing rehearsals and the joy that comes from having a hard time keeping a straight face as “cast members really embrace their character roles.”


Specht, another longtime cast member, was drawn to the play due to a love of comedies, the outrageousness of them and, of course, because it’s Neil Simon. Specht portrays Chris Gorman, a New York, Westchester County affluent lawyer who finds herself in the middle of a farcical cover-up with three other couples and two police officers.


“As gunshots, car wrecks and culinary disasters occur, Chris finds herself falling apart and not even several stiff drinks or a much desired cigarette can help,” Specht joked. 


While Specht believes the audience “will laugh and find humor” in everything the cast has accomplished in bringing the “unique, crazy characters” interacting in this “zany farce” to life, there is an element of sadness attached to Specht’s performance. Her time with OHP, who she described as “a welcoming and kind family of creative artists,” is most likely coming to an end. 


“Personally, it will probably be the last show I do at the opera house, as I am retiring to Colorado in July. I will truly miss the wonderful, creative and brilliant adults and children that are part of the opera house family,” Specht said. 


Helping to spread the laughs is co-director Tom Chandler, who has been an OHP member since the 1970s and shows no signs of slowing down. Chandler stepped into the role after Banse was needed elsewhere and he made the decision because of Neil Simon and the respect he has for Simon’s work. 


Chandler is also willing to help the cause wherever needed. The old adage that “two minds are better than one” is true as he and Moser get the cast ready for opening night, pushing them out of their comfort zones and getting them to add just a little more farce to the proceedings.  


Along the way, Chandler watched a version of the play online and wondered how OHP would do it. Well, they’re going all in on the quirky, from the mannerisms to the physical actions, right down to the set itself, which is overdone with off-kilter designs and extravagant set pieces, adding farcical pomp to the opulence of a 1980s New York City home. It is surely going to elicit a lot of laughs. 


It’s the shared laughs that continue to bring Chandler back some five decades after he started. It’s also the gratification of sharing a hobby—with the public, with friends and with other OHP members who will bring his and Moser’s vision to life. 


Additionally, there is the element of father time that drives Chandler to return year after year to be part of this shared experience.  


“No one knows how much we have left. But, I get up and do something every day,” Chandler said. As he walked around the set, showing off all the hard work that has gone into the production, there was a childlike enthusiasm that breathes excitement into the atmosphere. It’s as contagious as the laughs are expected to be when the curtain opens for the first time on “Rumors.” 


The play can be seen at the Elkader Opera House on April 14, 15, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m., then April 16 and 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased via the opera house webpage, at or at the Elkader Floral Shop.

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