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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Also see Susan's reviews of The Pajama Men: Just the Two of Each of Us and The Lyons


Steve Vinovich, Bruce Dow and Tom Story
At first glance, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum might not seem like an ideal fit for Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company. Why would one of the nation's pre-eminent classical theaters present this trifle? But never fear, the company and director Alan Paul have found a way to honor the Roman (and vaudevillian) roots of the delightful 1962 musical while not missing any of the anarchic humor.

In addition to Stephen Sondheim's first Broadway score to which he contributed both music and lyrics, Forum benefits from a hilarious and rigidly logical book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, drawn from the works of the ancient Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus. One note: any anachronisms in this production—and there are a lot of them—come from the high-spirited director and his cast, not from the book as written.

As the conniving slave Pseudolus, Bruce Dow—last seen as Bottom in the company's Midsummer Night's Dream—provides a fine example of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink comedy, and he also sings well. However, the discovery of this production is Tom Story as the tightly wrapped household slave Hysterium. He's done a lot of finely detailed, thoughtful work for various theaters over the past few years, but nothing that would prepare an audience for this officious, bespectacled man who finds unexpected liberation in the second act. (The knee socks with sandals are a nice touch, too.)

To sum up the plot: Pseudolus yearns for freedom from his master, earnest young Roman patrician Hero (Nick Verina). This will happen if Pseudolus can bring Hero together with Philia (Lora Lee Gayer), a beautiful blank slate who raises vapidity to an art form. The problem is that Philia has been sold by smarmy Marcus Lycus (Danny Rutigliano), dealer in courtesans, to an arrogant army captain, Miles Gloriosus (Edward Watts). Further complications arise with the unexpected appearances of Hero's parents, aging Senex (Steve Vinovich) and domineering Domina (Julie Johnson), and neighbor Erronius (Harry Winter), a doddering old man whose presence ultimately ties everything together.

Paul is using the 1996 version of the script (from the Broadway revival that starred Nathan Lane), which means that the "Comedy Tonight" opening number contains a few surprises. Forum purists will also notice the absence of one song, "Pretty Little Picture," and the inclusion of the rarely performed second verse to "I'm Calm."

Costume designer David C. Woolard has had a lot of fun here. Aside from the basic togas worn by most of the characters, he shines in his exuberantly tacky ensemble for Lycus (clashing animal prints and gold sequins!) and some of his character costumes for the shape-shifting Proteans (Matthew Bauman, Nick Flatto, Blakely Slaybaugh).

Shakespeare Theatre Company
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum November 21st - January 5th, 2014
Book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart
Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Senex, an old man: Steve Vinovich
Domina, his wife: Julie Johnson
Hero, his son, in love with Philia: Nick Verina
Hysterium, slave to Senex and Domina: Tom Story
Pseudolus, slave to Hero: Bruce Dow
Erronius, an old man: Harry Winter
Miles Gloriosus, a warrior: Edward Watts
Marcus Lycus, a buyer and seller of courtesans: Danny Rutigliano
Tintinabula, a courtesan: Ashley Marinelli
Panacea, a courtesan: Chelsey Arce
The Geminae, courtesans: Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Sarah Meahl
Vibrata, a courtesan: Lisa Karlin
Gymnasia, a courtesan: Jennifer Frankel
Philia, a virgin: Lora Lee Gayer
The Proteans: Matthew Bauman, Nick Flatto, Blakely Slaybaugh
Directed by Alan Paul
Music director: Adam Wachter
Choreographer: Josh Rhodes
Harman Center for the Arts, Sidney Harman Hall
610 F St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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