Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Theater Review: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum -- CT Repertory

Steven Hayes (Pseudolus, Center) with Bradford Scobie (Hysterium, laying down) and Colby Lewis (Miles Gloriosus). Photo: Gerry Goodstein.
A Funny Thing Happens: Good Performances Make a Tired Show Worth Watching
By Lauren Yarger
With its sexist plot, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is one of those shows that probably was a riot in 1962, but seems like something is lacking when presented a half century later – until the CT Repertory version running as part of the Nutmeg Summer Series. This one, thanks to some solid performances, is funny again.

Director Vincent J. Cardinal taps Steven Hayes (last year’s Modern Major General The Pirates of Penzance and the barber in Man of La Mancha at CRT) as Pseudolus, a Roman slave who tries to win his freedom by helping his young master, Hero (Adam Maggio), win the love of Philia (Amandina Altomare), a beautiful courtesan from the house of Lycus (Tim Murray), next door. That love is forbidden by Hero’s mother, Domina (Ariana Shore), and his father, Senex (Dirk Lumbard), when his domineering wife allows him to get a word in edgewise, that is.

Sounding like a mix of Zero Mostel (who originated the role of Pseudolus on Broadway) and the animated character Snagglepuss, Hayes leads the cast through mistaken identity, farcical slamming doors and the Stephen Sondheim score which gave us the classic “A Comedy Tonight,” which arguably, is the only memorable tune (lyrics and book are by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart). He enlists the aid of head slave Hysterium (an over-the-top, guffaw-inducing Bradford Scobie) in his scheme.

Hero promises to free Pseudolus if he can get Philia for him, so the slave tells Lycus that Philia has the plague. He offers to keep her next door so she doesn’t infect the other women in the house of ill repute: Vibrata (Briana Maia), Panacea (Annie Wallace), Tintinabua (Madelyn Shaffer), twins Geninae 1 and 2 (Claire and Alanna Saunders) and Gymnasia (played by male James Jelkin – are there no jacked women actresses?).

When Senex returns unexpectedly, however, Philia mistakes him for her new owner, Captain Miles Gloriosus (Colby Lewis), who paid Lycus good money for a virgin bride. She is willing to honor the contract and offers to give him her body, if not her heart, which belongs to Hero. Added to this is the story of another neighbor, Erronius (Brandon Beaver), who returns home after years of searching for his two babies stolen by pirates. Meanwhile, Domina also shows up unexpectedly, in disguise, to spy on her husband, whom she suspects of infidelity. The looks she gives are priceless.

The four Equity performers (Hayes, Lumbard, Shore and Scobie) anchor the performance and display good comic chops all around, adding a much needed boost to the show, which on its own, isn’t funny in 2013 when women’s rights and sex trafficking aren’t things to be laughed at (book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart).

A tip of the hate also goes to Costume Designer Lisa Loen who dresses the courtesans in appropriate, but not too revealing, get ups. Some productions add to the sexism by dressing the actresses in next to nothing in modern day selling of women’s bodies to increase ticket sales). Also shining here is third-year graduate actor Lewis, whose use of facial expression and intonation create a memorably pompous, egotistical and humorous Gloriosus.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays through June 30 in the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, on the UConn Storrs Campus: Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $10-$45: (860) 486-2113; www.crt.uconn.edu.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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