Some things are funny even after 2000 years — and this play is one of them. Stephen Sondheim’s musical, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is based on the plays of Plautus, a Roman who lived 200 years before the birth of Christ. The show proves not only that human nature hasn’t changed in all that time, but also that humor can translate across time, space, and culture. Forum is a bawdy show filled with laughs of all kinds, from slapstick to puns to innuendo to farce. “Something appealing, something appalling, something for everyone, a comedy tonight!” promises the show’s opening number, and Forum delivers, in spades.
The Burlington Haylofters’ production of Forum is filled with enthusiastic performances from its young supporting class and the theater veterans who comprise the show’s leads. Rob King as Pseudolus, the slave who longs to be free, lights up the stage with his manic plotting and counter-plotting. He’s balanced out by his nervous fellow slave (and reluctant co-conspirator) Hysterium, played by David Taylor. The slaves ostensibly work for the family of Senex, stolidly portrayed by Don Fresen, Lovey Hill, and Jesse Hurst as the young hero, Hero. The family lives next door to a house of ill repute run by Marcus Lycus (John Roberts), and Hero soon falls in love with the virgin courtesan, Philia (Kimberly Case), who — unfortunately — has recently been sold to a macho Roman captain, Miles Gloriousus (Logan Bydalek). Did I mention that the other house next door is owned by Erronius (Terry W. Lemmon), who left home years ago to search for his children who were kidnapped by pirates?
Don’t worry, it may sound confusing, but it’s all easy to follow onstage, despite the plottings of Pseudolus and the other characters. Rounding out the cast are a bevy of beautiful young courtesans and three “Proteans” — a type of Greek Chorus who perform various functions in the play, at one moment guardsmen and the next eunuchs. The Proteans, too, are very funny. Put all of these characters together, and by the play’s end, you’ll have a pretty good idea of why Rome fell.
The production never falls down, though. It breezes from one comic moment to the next, pausing only long enough to burst into song. Sondheim’s tunes are challenging, but the cast handles them well (most of the time), and when the entire cast joins in the chorus line, the results are wonderful. Though spare, the show’s set is both evocative of the Roman era and cleverly used by the cast and choreography. The director, Pamela Schroeder, must have had a great time putting the players through their paces in the climactic chase scene. (Watch for an amazing quick change by the Proteans.) Will the happy ending promised in the opening number work out as planned?
Attend one of Forum’s remaining shows and find out. The play continues October 15-17 and 22-24 (2010) at the Malt House Theater in Burlington. I’m betting this play holds up just as well in the next millennium as it has through the last two. Don’t wait until then to see it though. Catch it now. You’ll be glad you did.