May 25, 2001

No Whoopi here

Comic Roman antics take over University Theatre for the next two weeks with the production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum by Stephen Sondheim, Larry Gelbart, and Burt Shevelove. Directed by Blackfriars veteran Jessica Post, this musical comedy tells the story of the love between a Roman youth, Hero, and a virginal courtesan, Philia. The show itself is highly enjoyable with the hilarity of mistaken identities and slave-master reversal, in the manner of a French farce, complete with dance, chases, and acrobatics.

The play is narrated by the slave Pseudolus, played by Garrett Ard, who strikes a deal with his master, Hero; if he is able to bring Hero together with Philia, he may have his freedom. The catch: Philia has just been sold to Captain Miles Gloriosus. It must be said that newcomers Chris Romer (Hero) and Leann Sechrest (Philia) sing more beautifully than other leads have in recent years, however stereotypically they portray their characters. Much of the comedy is carried on the energetic shoulders of the Proteans, played by Zach McClain, Ryan Mastro, and Junhow Wei, three ambiguous characters who play a plethora of roles from slaves, to eunuchs in the whorehouse, to Roman foot soldiers. The three start the play off with a bang, pick up the pace where it is lacking, and ultimately light up the stage with their presence. David Schultz, who plays the greasy Marcus Lycus, a cowardly pimp who resembles a Las Vegas lounge singer, gives a hilarious performance. Matt Tievsky and Elizabeth Levy give admirable performances playing the submissive Senex and the domineering Domina, Hero's parents. Finally, Rolfe Winkler, who portrays the slave Hysterium, gives an incredible performance, carrying any scene in which he appears and gives perhaps the most endearing performance of the show. Winkler, who has a wonderful singing voice, appears responsible, neurotic, and vulnerable at once while getting carried away in the stream of confusion that is Forum.

The design concept of Forum is certainly a colorful one, with some outrageous costumes and a wacky set. First time set designer Heidi Thompson created three enormous multi-level houses on stage, painted and trimmed in what can only be called a grossly exaggerated Roman motif. She is to be commended for this ambitious set, which in its simplicity provides great flexibility and ease of use. Maggie Hansen's costume design is imaginative and skillfully executed. Her inventive ideas have been seen previously at UT during winter quarter's Caucasian Chalk Circle, and her Forum design certainly lives up to her earlier work. The men are clad in colorful togas, reminiscent of togas of antiquity, but with added splashes of contemporary style and humor; the borders of the togas are painted with some sort of splatter paint, and the audience should take notice of some very original patterns. The courtesans are clad in a myriad of fabrics, meshes and lace, and the costumes are indeed the eye catchers of the production. Dan Stearns, UT's technical director, did a highly original job designing the lights; audiences will be surprised with some pyrotechnics at the end of the performance.

The orchestra is conducted by Kimmy Szeto, and the production's vocal director, Emilee Lales, deserves praise for the actors' beautiful singing performances. All in all, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum is a hysterical comedy and a lovely show to be enjoyed by all. Forum will be playing in the first floor theater of the Reynolds Club, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 24-26 at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday May 27 at 2:00 p.m. The performances continue the following week, Wednesday through Saturday May 30-June 2 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets can be bought in advance at the Reynolds Club Box Office.