The Huntington Beach Playhouse will be opening its new production, a reprise of Neil Simon's comedy "Rumors," this weekend, but I won't be at my customary spot in Row K taking mental notes.

I won't even be in town. It's late August and, for the 10th time, my lady and I will be vacationing in Montana. I've asked my good friend, theater publicist Chris Trela, to pinch-hit for me as the Independent's critic.

Not that I couldn't catch a second-weekend performance after I return — I probably will. There's another reason for my abstention. The "Rumors" cast includes my favorite actress — who's also my favorite daughter.

Mindy Mills has been performing under that name for the past 10 years, but for the preceding 15 she was billed as Mindy Titus, who came by her stage talent quite naturally, as both of her parents were in local theater up to their eyebrows.

When she was 11, I turned her into a murderess, directing her performance as Rhoda Penmark in "The Bad Seed." At 19, we played father and daughter in another Simon comedy, "I Ought to Be in Pictures" — a personal favorite.

One reason Mindy auditioned for "Rumors" was the fact that it was being directed by Terri Miller Schmidt, for whom she played the counter girl in "Bus Stop," also at the Huntington Beach Playhouse. As if she weren't under enough pressure, the show opened three days after 9/11.

I asked Schmidt for her views on the play — a rare farce from Broadway's king of comedy — and the production, and she provided this insight:

"'Rumors' was written by Simon during a particularly dark time for him," the director responded. "Depressed and bored with his own success and greatly inspired by Moliere's manic farces, he patterned this piece on a farce's ability to take seemingly normal characters and put them in hysterically funny abnormal circumstances.

"His people are real. Their dilemmas are not."

Her biggest challenge during rehearsal, she noted, was "to keep everyone focused on the work at hand and not to have to stop so much because we kept dissolving into hopeless laughter."

"As a director, I couldn't ask for a more talented cast," Schmidt declared. "Their ability to more than meet the task of combining physical comedy with pathos is superbly fun to watch.

"Having worked with all but a few of the actors in very different types of plays, I have enjoyed seeing them hone their comedy chops. Mindy Mills, for example, has discovered a new, dryer approach to her character's comedic dialogue, while Andrea LaVeta, mostly known for her dramatic turns as an actress, has shown a hysterically funny side."

Summing up, the director said, "The actors have gleefully embraced their characters' flaws with wild abandon and Simon would be proud."

So will I, I'm sure, when I finally get home and check out "Rumors" at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Independent.

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If You Go

What: "Rumors"

Where: Huntington Beach Playhouse, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach

When: 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays, 2 p.m. Sundays until Sept. 16

Cost: $18 to $20

Information: (714) 375-0696 or http://www.hbplayhouse.com