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"This is one of the silliest things I've ever seen," the reviewer thought halfway through the BroadHollow Theatre's gloriously dopey production of Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum."
Truly, they just don't make 'em like this anymore; as loopy as "Young Frankenstein" or "The Producers" are, they can't possibly come close to the sublime ridiculousness of "Forum," where absolutely everyone, save the wily slave Pseudolus, is a thumping idiot and the only point of the whole business is to entertain the audience, then send them home humming the theme song.
The work is based on the works of Roman playwright Plautus, who must have seen stuff like this going on back in the day. No one should have any doubt why the Roman Empire ultimately failed.
The plot, for the uninitiated, is simple. Hero, Pseudolus' young master, has fallen for a girl in the bawdy house next door, and is willing to give Pseudolus his freedom if Pseudolus can win her for him. But the girl, Philia, has been bought by a bombastic Roman war hero and much silliness will ensue before she (and Pseudolous, for that matter) are finally free.
Joining these characters are Hero's parents, the browbeaten Senex (Michael Wolf) and his terrifying wife Domina (Jennifer Hope, her face made up into a Gorgon's mask); Hysterium, their head slave (Matt Langen), who's in charge of protecting Hero's virtue while his parents are out of town; Erronious (Gary Tifeld), whose kids were abducted by pirates when they were babies and who's been looking for them ever since; and Marcus Lycus (Tarmo Kirsimae), the owner of the cathouse.
We also have sentries, eunuchs and courtesans who look and behave like the alien hoochie-mamas who were there to entice Captain Kirk on the original "Star Trek." All they lack is the green body paint. These lovelies are played by Heidi Hecker, Donna Manganello, Georgene Muzio, Christina Stango, Vanessa Youmans and Ulla Flitta, while the "proteans," three worthy guys who play everything from eunuchs to guards, are played by Thomas Leidenfrost, Lucas Dean and Jamal Shuriah.
The cast, directed with a go-for-broke verve by Laura Wallace-Rhodes, enjoy themselves hugely. Hope, such a lovely Guenevere in the BroadHollow's production of "Camelot," chews the scenery as the lust-and-power-maddened Domina. During her version of "Dirty Old Man," she very nearly throttles Hysterium in her zeal.
Wolf may be henpecked as Senex, but he can't wait to get his hands on Philia, who he thinks is the new maid — and to him a maid is just a courtesan in an apron. Stephanie Bashall's Philia is a delightful, clumsy, giggling dunderhead, and Christopher Leidenfrost's Hero is a good-hearted dope who is perfect for her in their mutual lack of intellect.
Langen tries to inject some sanity into the action as Hysterium ("I'm Calm," he sings), but this is futile, and the very tall Kirsimae projects a screwy androgynous charm as Lycus. Tifeld makes a sweetly pixilated Erronious — whenever he points out the geese motif on his jewelry we hear the honks of a gaggle flying overhead. There's no use asking why. Finally, Matt Senese's Pseudolous is the perfect foil for all of these characters. For one thing, he's the only one who knows they're putting on a play, and his comic timing and Bette Davis wit are flawless.
The crew also must have had a good time with this one. Brian Howard's scenic design, with its crooked houses and columns, looks like something straight out of "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," but it's all for laughs, as are Joshua Scherr's bright and unfussy lighting design and Sheri Kfare's great costumes, from Philia's virginal white draperies to Miles' plastic armor and crest of brilliant scarlet feathers. The band, led by Steve McCoy, is also stirring, thanks to music and lyrics by the great Stephen Sondheim. And all's well that ends well.
As the song goes, "Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight."
Forum will be at the BroadHollow theater till June 14.
©2008 Community Newspaper Group
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