Classically comical

theater review

At Bowie Playhouse, 2nd Star stages an energetic 'Forum'

November 20, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Baltimore Sun

One of three resident companies at Bowie Playhouse, 2nd Star chose a winner in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a production that director Jane Wingard said "took 7,000 volunteer hours to put together," explaining that "comedy is hard, as the actors endure long rehearsals to learn the music, dances and their lines."

A smart choice to open the newly renovated theater, the show is filled with Roman slapstick and catchy tunes set to clever lyrics. Forum debuted on Broadway in 1962, becoming the first show in which Stephen Sondheim served as both composer and lyricist, with book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. The writers brought back puns, mistaken identities and cross-dressing that were first explored in 200 B.C. by playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, who exposed human foibles to his long-ago Roman audiences.

Often hilarious, Forum arrived decades before political correctness and is likely to offend senior and feminist segments of any audience.

Sondheim created a tuneful farce that began with "Comedy Tonight" - maybe the wittiest opener ever - that promises "Something familiar, something peculiar, Something for everyone: a comedy tonight / Something appealing, something appalling, Something for everyone: a comedy tonight," later adding "Nothing with gods, nothing with fate: Weighty affairs will just have to wait! / Nothing that's formal, nothing that's normal, No recitations to recite: Open up the curtain; comedy tonight!" This same tune is reprised to close the show.

Director Wingard has gathered an energetic 2nd Star cast to play a unique assortment of crafty slaves, lascivious masters, eunuchs, courtesans, soldiers and virginal young lovers. The show is briskly paced with the help of skilled choreographer Christine Asero and the terrific pit orchestra led by Don Smith. Wingard does double duty as set designer, creating a believable ancient Roman neighborhood.

Brian Douglas is perfectly cast as slave Pseudolus, winning the audience instantly with his strong delivery of the opening "Comedy Tonight" and other tunes, smoothly guiding the action while conveying the slave's yearning for freedom and his relish of outwitting his masters.

Pseudolus bargains for his freedom with his young master Hero, whom he promises he'll arrange to unite with his love, Philia, a virginal courtesan in Marcus Lycus' House of Pleasure, although Lycus has promised Philia to warrior Miles Gloriosus as his bride. To arrange this Hero-Philia pairing, Pseudolus enlists the help of fellow-slave Hysterium who must keep an eye out for Hero's parents, Senex and Domina. Frantically nervous and amusingly groveling as played by Jerry Khatcheressian, Hysterium cowers before Senex and Domina and is at his comic best in drag as Gloriosus' substitute bride.

The actual bride Philia, the stereotypical dumb blonde, is well-played by Laura Kavinski, and her innocent suitor Hero is captured in the performance of Nathan Bowen. They deliver the tuneful "Lovely," praising Philia's brainless charms.

Would-be philandering husband Senex is amusingly played by Edward Smith, and his wife Domina, zestfully played by Anne Staunton Adams, who reveals an impressive singing voice. Adams' Domina delivers prime comedy as she lusts after warrior Miles Gloriosus, commandingly played by Wendell Holland, who also proves he knows his way around a tune.

Steven Bradford conveys the avarice and duplicity of brothel owner Marcus Lycus and contributes to another musical memory when joined by Smith's Senex and Douglas' Pseudolus in "Everybody Ought to Have a Maid," extolling sexual harassment in lines - "Oh, wouldn't she be delicious, Tidying up the dishes, Neat as a pin, Oh, wouldn't she be delightful, sweeping out, sleeping in?" that will undoubtedly offend feminists.

All things considered, 2nd Star's production is so amusing that the inherent sexist and senior jokes are less offensive than in many other productions. Adding to the mayhem is 2nd Star's lively cast of comical Proteans, outstanding among them is Zachary Fadler, and comely Courtesans, including skilled dancers such as Rebecca Placella, Ruta Kidolis and Caitlin Jennings.

The preview Forum performance at the opening of the renovated Bowie Playhouse included a celebratory ribbon-cutting by Mayor G. Frederick Robinson and members of the City Council of Bowie, followed by a champagne reception where the City of Bowie's generous support of the arts was toasted by all.

2nd Star's Forum continues weekends through Dec. 13 at the Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park.

Ticket prices are $20 general admission, $17 for seniors and full-time students. For tickets call the box office, 410-757-5700.

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