Neil Simon’s farce, Rumors, gives readers an in-depth look at the lives of ten wealthy individuals attending a dinner party. In an attempt to stay within the social crown, the characters start unsubstantiated rumors about their friends in an attempt to make themselves look better. The hosts of the party, Ken Gorman, and his wife Chris must cover up the fact that a friend of theirs, Charley Brock, has been shot in the ear lobe. They do not know how he got shot, but they decide that he must have tried to commit suicide, and thereby proceed to spread rumors about what they have heard in an attempt to avoid a possible attempted suicide scandal. They first lie to Charley’s personal doctor, they lie about what happened to all of the servants, and they finally about a second gunshot heard in the house.
When the Gormans first encounter Charley in his bedroom, they immediately call his personal doctor at the theater to tell him that Charley feels just fine. Chris relates the story to the doctor when she says, “Dr. Dudley, I’m afraid there’s been an accident… Well, we just arrived here at Charley’s house about ten minutes ago, and as we were getting out of our car, we suddenly heard this enormous… thud… It seemed Charley had tripped going up the stairs… no, wait, down the stairs. Down the stairs. But he’s all right,” (13). Finally, Chris manages to explain to the doctor that Charley had not really hurt himself in the first place and that she felt sorry to have bothered him at the theater. After hanging up the phone, the Gormans put Charley in the shower to wash off the blood, wrap a towel around his head to stop the bleeding, and go back downstairs to wait for the rest of the party guests. Lenny and Claire Ganz arrive at the party first.
Coming straight from a car accident, the Ganz’s ask why Charley has not joined them for the party. Ken Gorman explains that Charley has had a rough day and he decided to take a nap for a little while. Lenny exclaims that he has not had a thing to eat since breakfast and wonders where Mai Li the cook has put all of the food. Not wanting to explain that they have recently fired Mai Li, the Gormans fabricate a story about her having to go back to Japan to visit her sick mother. Claire asks, “But Mai Li is Chinese, isn’t she?” The Gormans look at each other and then Chris quickly says, “I know. Her mother was visiting Japan.” As a result of this, they must ask their friends to help them prepare dinner for their own party. They know that if they explain to the Ganz’s that they do not have enough money to keep her in service any longer, they will fall of out favor with their friends. For this reason, they find it necessary to fabricate stories to explain happenings in the house. As the night progresses, they consistently dig themselves into a deeper hole of lies.
The situation eventually gets terrible when Ken tries to hide the gun so Charley can’t find it to shoot himself again. On his way to putting in the closet, Ken trips over Charley’s slippers and discharges the gun straight into the wall. The report occurred right next to his ear, and for the rest of the play, Ken is almost entirely deaf. Naturally, the Gormans cannot say that a gunshot went off in the house, so they create a variety of different excuses to explain the sound upstairs. At first, Claire decides that a car backfiring has the most credibility, but because of the volume of the sound, she later changes it to a manhole cover that exploded. After some time, she again changes the story to a can of shaving cream that exploded due to the pressure from the manhole cover exploding. This story seems a little far-fetched to the other guests, so she finally says, “Oh, I know. I know. I know exactly what it was… it was a balloon. They’ve been blowing up party balloons up there all day,” (43). This answer seems satisfactory enough for everyone, and they lapse back into their normal conversations again.
The party in Rumors has a lot of humor to it, but on the other hand, it shows just how far people will go just to be accepted by their peers. Through deceit, the Gormans lied about Charley’s health to avoid an investigation. They lied about their lack of hired help to remain recognized within their circle of friends, and they also lied about a second gunshot from upstairs to avoid a panic in the house that would ruin the dinner party. Considering the lengths that the Gormans go to to be well-liked, it seems ironic that in the end when they discover Charley has tried to kill himself, nobody really cares. All of of the trouble that the Gormans went to by lying to their friends had no bearing on the outcome of the story.