Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 2002
If you have not been to the Theater Barn yet this season, or if (shame on you!) you have never darkened its doors at all, this is the show that you must buy tickets for NOW! You will start having fun from the moment you walk in to the theatre and see Abe Phelps’ gorgeous, colorful set.
Forum is a broad and bawdy show very vaguely based on the ancient Roman comedies of Plautus (circa 254-184 BCE) but owing much more to the early 20th century traditions of vaudeville and burlesque. First produced on Broadway in 1962, it snatched the Tony for Best Musical from the clutches of Oliver! with its Dickensian literary credentials and critics were snippy about its low-brow humor which was perceived as a lack of artistic “ambition” on the part of its creators. Which just goes to show what a silly lot theatre critics can be.
There is nothing at all wrong, in my book, with an evening of silliness and slapstick. In fact, if I have any quibble at all with Bert Bernardi’s production it is that things are not quite bawdy enough. I hope that as the run of the show progresses Bernardi can get his cast to go just a little faster and play the jokes just a tiny bit bigger and broader. It is all quite sublimely silly, and with a little nudge it could be side-splitting.
The plot is not at all important. Various people are pining for each other and unable to be together, while various others are much closer together than they want to be. Several people dress up as someone else. And Pseudolus the slave wants his freedom.
Matthew Daly is in fine form as Pseudolus, following in the enormous shoes of some of the greatest clowns of the last century. But I confess that Anthony Devine really stole the show as Hysterium, the second banana. I have never seen such a lot of hysterical hysteria contained in one human being before. By the time he was cavorting about in drag I was in stitches.
Seneca Burr and Debra Pitkin, who have proven their mettle in earlier Theater Barn productions this season, are delightful as the older and oh-so-married couple Senex and Domina. Pitkin gets to wear a really great wig in the earlier scenes, and Burr is all flutter and fluster as he primps endlessly in preparation for an assignation with a lovely young virgin that never transpires.
Just when I was about to decide that Robert McCaffrey wasn’t so bland after all, he goes and plays a bland part. But this is a good thing in this case. McCaffrey has tackled the male juvenile role of Hero in Forum before and it is a good fit. He is nicely matched with Theater Barn newcomer Kerry Conte as the dim-witted and virginal Philia.
Allen Phelps capers about with glee as Marcus Lycus, the buyer and seller of courtesans. The women who play his current lot of “wares” have rather thankless and sexist jobs, but Jessica Taylor (Tintanabula), Heather Wohl (Vibrata), Sigali Hamberger (Gymnasia), and Casey Connolly and Rachel Wolff as the Geminae (a kind of ancient Roman version of the Barbie Twins) allow themselves to be oogled and fondled gamely.
I got a big kick out of the cheerful bumblings of Jeremy Kocal, Brad Seal, and Dylan Kumara Widjoni who filled a variety of minor roles from parading soldiers to squealing eunuchs. And Jeff Slootz seemed to be a little more in his element this time out as the vain, glorious and ridiculously macho Miles Gloriosus.
Jimmy Johansmeyer has had a field day with the vivid and fully functional costumes. So he has covered up the courtesans a little too much, the over all combination of Abe Phelps set, Allen Phelps lighting, and Johansmeyers costumes is as riotous as the show itself.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to the Forum runs through September 1 at The Theater Barn, located on Rt. 20 just west of the town of New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two hours and 10 minutes with one intermission and is suitable for the entire family, assuming your family likes silly, bawdy stuff. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2002