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Chaffin's Barn squeezes a few laughs out of one of Neil Simon's less satisfying works

Simple Simon

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At the other end of the theatrical spectrum — far away from the solemnity of The Diary of Anne Frank — is Neil Simon's 1988 comedy Rumors, now onstage at Chaffin's Barn Dinner Theatre.

Chaffin's will soon celebrate 44 years as Nashville's most popular dinner theater, a familiar, community-centric establishment that keeps actors and other theater folk employed (often as waiters) while serving up good food with lighter entertainment. Unsurprisingly, this isn't Chaffin's first mounting of Simon's play, and its easy demands on the dinner theater audience probably explain why it's a return favorite.

The script's focus on the cover-up of a potential scandal in a politician's life may be very au courant, but even worked as a farce, the play is a tad moldy. Even director Bobby Wyckoff's attempts to bring the script into the 21st century with nods to topics such as cell phone technology can't hide the fact that ol' Doc Simon cranked this one out with limited inspiration.

A dinner party goes awry when guests arrive to find both host and hostess missing. Later, the man of the house — the deputy mayor of New York City — turns up bleeding from a surface gunshot wound. We never see him, though. Instead, the guests — including his lawyer, his accountant and his therapist (and their wives) — conspire to keep the mishap, and the mystery of the absent hostess, under wraps when the police come to inquire.

Farces often rely on preposterous setups, but Rumors strains more than most. That leaves the playwright reliant on his gift for the funny one-liner, which in Simon's case has made him a fortune. The jokes are here in patches, and actress Lydia Bushfield gets the most generous share of Simon's bounty. When it's her turn, she zings 'em out with gusto and usually gets a laugh, which at least serves as some reward for those of us wading through the seemingly interminable staging shenanigans.

Mike Baum also deserves a mention for convincingly feigning whiplash through the entire show and delivering the big climactic comic soliloquy. Other veteran performers stoically pushing through the talkiness include Trin Blakely, Derek Whittaker and Charlie Winton.

A full house on a recent Saturday night proved at least one thing: The market for Simon "lite" plus a tasty buffet still holds in a downturn economy.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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