Colonial `Forum' supplies plenty of `comedy tonight'

Musical well-served by Players' production

Howard Live


March 04, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Colonial Players' A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum exposes human foibles recognized in 200 B.C., when Titus Maccius Plautus revealed them to Roman audiences. In 1962, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart brought Plautus' puns, mistaken identities and cross-dressing to Broadway, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Plautus might have been ancient Rome's Mel Brooks, offending everyone equally. Romping with these politically incorrect Romans is the most fun I've had in the theater this century.

Director Carol Youmans and her cast make the humor crackle within the minimalist set. In this intimate space, the audience becomes part of zany ancient Rome, the small dimensions permitting no slips. All frantic action is within the limited confines of Colonial's theater in the round, a daunting task when trying to keep crowd scenes organized mayhem.

In this first musical in which Sondheim wrote both words and music, each ribald character has an anthem. Trader Lycus expresses his cupidity in "House of Marcus Lycus" (dwelling of concubines, eunuchs and a virgin), and 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?"

Sondheim gives the company the sparkling "Comedy Tonight" to open the show with "nothing portentous or polite," and in a bit of genius, the same tune is used to close the show.

In Colonial Players' production, crafty slave Pseudolus is brilliantly played by Duncan Hood, who conveys his frantic desire for freedom, while relishing his ability to outwit others. Hood also does full justice to the score.

Longing for Philia, the girl next door, Hero is Pseudolus' ticket to freedom if he can strike a bargain with Lycus. Expressing innocence and lusty impatience, Jud Wegner is a robust Hero. Lycus is played by Danny Brooks, who brings sharp comic timing to the role.

Wegner brings a pleasing, powerful voice to his "Free" duet with Hood's Pseudolus, and to his "Lovely" duet with Katy Smith's Philia. Smith brings a unique subtlety and delicious comedic sense to her portrayal of Philia, the stereotypical dumb blonde.

Smith telegraphs that her Philia might be smarter than her pursuers.

As Senex, the would-be philandering husband of Domina, Michael N. Dunlop is the perfect foil for Hood's Pseudolus. His wife, Domina, is zestfully played by Andrea Elward, departing from her usual sedate roles. Easily holding her own with the other comic actors, Elward's Domina does some comic lusting of her own in greeting warrior Miles Gloriosus, played by an imposing "machomaximus" Mark Hildebrand.

Of the three Forum productions I've seen, this was the best -- so good that sexist and senior jokes seemed hilariously funny, not true in less-polished productions.

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" runs through March 27. Reservations: 410-268-7373.

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