BWW Review: Comedy Takes the Stand in Eventide's FORUM
The only tragedy here is that it isn't running longer!
Everyone is familiar with the works of Stephen Sondheim, who has proven himself to be quite the musical genius. His contributions to everything from "West Side Story" to "Sweeney Todd" have really set him apart from others in the musical theater realm; his style is so eclectic, his music so beautiful, that any show which bears his name is most likely going to be something great.
Not necessarily a fan of comedy but having great admiration for and desire to give any genre an honest try, Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical I have not had the pleasure of seeing before the Eventide Theatre Company showed me just how wonderful a show it truly it. The number of laughs and clever moments planned (and disastrous ones diverted) are as plentiful as the amount of words in the show's title. Sondheim's show being a farce, anything and everything can happen, so long as one character's involvement in the continuous hoax is constantly given complete attention to and, ironically, prone to the greatest bout of almost far-fetched confusion that can be had.
Yes, "Forum" not only provides perpetual laughs had by the sheer unknowingness of all the characters of what, exactly, is going on (not to mention each individual is quite the character on his/her own), but the music is wonderful and upbeat, the plot is lighthearted and there just really is not a reason to be found as to why this musical is anything but pure, adulterated fun (which doesn't mean what you think!) Eventide should be extremely proud of this production now brought to their stage, and as this was my first time seeing
it, I can now confidently share with others the enthusiasm felt that night as I watched magic unfold.
With music and lyrics by Sondheim, a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart and now directed and choreographed by the brilliant David McCarty (I would seriously love to meet him after seeing this show!), there is evidently so much dedication, talent and vision involved in the making of Forum...and that can be said just from being a member of the audience! There really is something to be said about a show whose sole intention is to make its audience laugh, but the intricacies involved in a plot so simple for said audience to behold with such simple-hearted glee are absolutely amazing. From the myriad of characters and their varied (and quite colorful) personalities to the sheer number of subplots happening simultaneously (one without the complete knowledge of the other), this clever conglomerate is bound to result in nothing short of a disaster. Of course, what better form of comedy exists than to watch people scramble, fall in love, sing, become jealous, involve the male population in a song about maids and actually try very little to figure out what is happening to them, only to culminate in the way only so many "ha-ha" moments only conceivably could?
After seeing this show, I've realized how truly unique it is. Yes, it being a farce there are many different influences to be found in how many shows this can be compared to; yet, watching Forum is not only wonderful because of the humorous moments it is comprised of, but also because it is simply captivating. I remember just sitting in my seat, forgetting everything for roughly two hours and just watching, taking in and reacting to everything that occurred on that stage. There is inherent humor galore, and what a spectacular cast of actors has been called to bring out this comedy to a very appreciative Cape Cod audience - one that now has beyond sufficient reason to mark Eventide down as an automatic "yes!" for witnessing some absolutely stunning theater.
Forum does not tell one , but many stories, and to describe the intricacies of this plot is quite the challenge; fortunately, the numerous subplots are almost effortlessly followed, so to forget anything of what happened is most difficult! Derived from the ancient comedic plays of Plautus, whose inspiration was the Greek form of "New Comedy," the wacky, goofy and confusing subplots of this musical are presented more like a gigantic cabaret and are therefore entertaining and overall just plain funny.
A slave, Psuedolus, is promised his freedom by the young Hero if he is able to obtain for him the greatest prize of all: Philia, the most beautiful "courtesan" of all who livesjust across the way in the disreputable house of Marcus Lycus, a Slave Master who sells woman to worthy buyers. While his masters (and the boys' parents) Domina and Senex are away visiting family in the country, Psuedolus is charged with the duty (really sort of bribed) of bringing this beautiful woman into his young master's arms, even though it is discovered that she has already been sold to Miles Gloriosus, a wealthy general. This is all against the wishes of Hysterium, the man put in charge of Hero's well-being during his parents' absence, and who is told explicitly to keep him away from the female persuasion.
What ensues froom there is simply chaotic, and therefore presents comedy in its best form. Psuedolus is able to convince Lycus to release the beautiful Philia (who is actually not a courtesan in the least) into his care until Gloriosus arrives to claim her, giving some time for she and Hero to be together. Of course they fall in love in record time, and seeing how he has little intention of giving his blonde, proper and rather scatterbrained love to another man, he will do anything to hide her from her buyer.
Meanwhile, Hysterium decides to help this happen while Lycus disguises himself in order to give Psuedolus the chance to work his magic. The frisky soon Senex returns without his wife and notices Philia dusting his house and wastes no times short of taking a bath in thinking how he can enjoy himself with her; one of the best musical numbers in the show is dedicated to the joys of having a maid. Domina returns soon after, as she suspects that her husband is up to no good, and between people pretending to be other characters, supposedly haunted houses and how this somehow is all righted towards the musical's end, this show is a serious bout of laughter that should not be missed.
Of course, this would be one difficult show without a pretty spectacular cast who was consistently able to keep the momentum and flow of something that could easily
make any of the actors tired; following the numerous story-lines is a mental exercise in itself! This is one time I have to say that the actors were not effortlessly acting but instead giving this show every ounce of their energy in order to make some serious magic there on stage.
Jeffery Clonts as Psuedolus is nothing short of amazing. From first being portrayed as one of the laziest slaves, his wittiness and fast thinking almost gets him murdered and yet he continuously bounces lies and more lies off of people in order to bide himself just that much more time. He is an amazing actor and it is so easy to want to watch him perform. Ken Bouchard as Hysterium is hilarious, but there are moments in the show when he gets so worked up that I can only imagine how much stress this man is actually enduring
for the sake of our entertainment! His reactions are utterly priceless, from when his little secret is found out to when he must force himself to remain calm amidst all that is happening, he really gives this production his all and he, too, deserves so much praise for his efforts here.
Daniel Fontneau is the perfect Slave Master, as he is easygoing and composed but also rather a little nervous and unsure of himself when dealing with something outside of what he is comfortable with. He, too, is suckered into Psuedolus' manacy, but plays along so, so well. Kristin Fehlau as Domina, Steve Ross as Senex and Robert Brancato as Hero form the absolutely perfect dysfunctional family. Fehlau is clearly the powerhouse of the family the moment she walks on stage, and this feistiness and dominance is so perfectly intensified when she is given over to feelings of jealousy and revenge in light of her husband's escapades. Ross is equally as conniving but plays his women-seeking character with such grace; he is basically a gigolo, but for some reason the audience cannot dislike him for his actions. Brancato, playing a character that has never fallen in love before, becomes surprisingly apt in the art of stealing and deceit in order to keep the heart of of his beautiful new love interest, yet he retains that innocence which makes the whole plan perfectly alright!
Anne Vohs as Philia is wonderful. I have seen Anne in quite a few productions over the last year, and this character is just about the opposite of everyone I have ever seen her play; yet, she is an incredibly versatile actress and is able to portray the flighty (yet proper!) virgin with such clear control over and understanding of her character. Ari Lew as Gloriosus takes on the domineering persona he plays so well, even in past shows I have seen him in. He has such wonderful stage presence, and the fact that he is always playing some
sort of authoritative figure (at least in roles I have watched him in) really makes me appreciate how able he is to portray these characters without doing so really ever getting the least bit old or losing that spark he brings to each role he plays.
Bud Ferris as Erronius, Meg Morris as Gymnasia, Amy Furey as Tintinabula, Jacqueline Coughlin as Panacea, Rachael Kenneally as Vibrata and Jim Swindler, LeVane
Harrington and Joao Pedro Santos as the Proteans all have major parts in keeping the tragedy out of this production. There truly aren't any small parts to be found,
and each actor did a wonderful job in bringing true life to Sondheim's musical. Kudos to
Musical Director Marcia Wytrwal and pianist Lucy Banner for keeping the music alive, while Set Designer Ellis Baker, Costume Designer Judy Chesley and Kendra Murphy on lights also deserve much credit!
So, if you would like to see a fantastic show deserving of all the praise it should be receiving, please consider seeing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at Eventide Theater. Eventide performs out of the Dennis Union Church (the Gertrude Lawrence Stage), located at 713 Route 6A in Dennis. Tickets are $25 and may be purchased by calling the box office at (508) 398.8588 or by visiting eventidearts.org. "Forum" runs through May 29th, with performances Thurs - Sat @ 7:30 pm and Sunday @ 2:30 pm. Please go and support a wonderful theater group and enjoy the show!
Photo Credit: Bob Tucker/Focalpoint Studio