Fun `Forum' is enjoyable theater

Bowie company cast offers `zestful' performances

June 10, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In 2nd Star's production of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," lots of funny things happen.

We laugh at our human foibles dating back at least to 250 B.C., when Titus Maccius Plautus first revealed them to Roman theater-goers.

In 1962, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart brought Plautus' characters to Broadway with their puns, mistaken identities, mime and cross-dressing.

Stephen Sondheim gave each of these ribald characters songs. Courtesan trader Lycus expresses his cupidity in "House of Marcus Lycus" (dwelling of concubines, eunuchs and a virgin), and the lascivious Senex is joined by Pseudolus and Lycus in "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," a song extolling sexual harassment -- "Wouldn't she be delightful sweeping out, sleeping in?"

Philia, perhaps the original dumb blonde, is given her anthem in "Lovely," a song that includes the lines, "Oh, isn't it a shame? I can neither sew nor cook, nor read nor write my name. But I'm happy merely being lovely." The posturing macho military man Miles Gloriosus sings, "Bring Me My Bride."

And Sondheim gave the whole company the sparkling "Comedy Tonight" to open and close the show with "nothing portentous or polite."

In the Bowie company's production, crafty slave Pseudolus is zestfully played by Chuck Richards, who conveys the slave's frantic desire for freedom. Richards projects well and delivers Sondheim's lyrics with perfect diction, revealing every comic nuance. He clearly relishes the role of Pseudolus, and is hilarious in it.

Hero represents Pseudolus' ticket to freedom because he lusts for Philia, the girl next door who Pseudolus can bargain for with Lycus. Bill Edwards portrays Hero, expressing young innocence and lusty impatience.

Edwards' voice has the power and pleasing quality of a seasoned Broadway performer. He matches Richards well in the duet "Free" and is "absolutely winsome" when he joins Victoria Wiser's Philia in "Lovely." Wiser, too, proves she knows her way around a song.

As Senex, the would-be philandering husband of Domina, Dan Lang is first-rate. The perfect foil for Richards' Pseudolus, Lang is as adept delivering Sondheim's songs.

Domina, wife of Senex, is played by Heidi Gwinn, who easily holds her own with the other comic actors and does some comic lusting of her own as she greets warrior Miles Gloriosus, played by tall, handsome David O'Brien. Gwinn is the daughter of Arthur Anker, who also makes an impressive 2nd Star debut as Erronius.

Jim Reiter is terrific as Hysterium, slave to Senex and Domina and Hero's appointed chaperon. Reiter grovels in subservience, exposes his frazzled nerves, and is hilarious in drag as Gloriosus' bride.

Jason Kimmell adds sophistication to the role of Lycus, portraying his character's craftiness, cowardice and duplicity skillfully.

As the Proteans, Debbie Cook, Wendell Holland and Scott Hancock deserve laurel wreaths for their highly comic mimicking of soldiers, slaves and free men. And a pile of laurel wreaths go to director John Guyton for handling brilliantly the fast-paced action with characters appearing, disappearing and reappearing in rapid-fire succession.

Music director and conductor Donald Smith, with an eight-piece orchestra in the pit, adds greatly to the enjoyable theater experience.

And the cartoon-like houses that form the set are masterfully designed by Lynne Wilson, who chose playful crayon colors: hot pink and purple for Lycus' house; peach with yellow trim for Senex and Domina's; and medium blue with lime green trim for Erronius' home.

"Forum" by 2nd Star Production Company of Bowie runs on weekends through June 26 at Bowie Theatre, off Route 3 south of Route 450, in White Marsh Park. Tickets: 301-205-0502 or 410-798-7001.

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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