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Theater Review-A Very Funny 'Forum' Should Have An Extended Run



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Theater Review—

A Very Funny ‘Forum’ Should Have An Extended Run

By Julie Stern

RIDGEFIELD — You probably won’t be able to get tickets to Ridgefield Theater Barn’s current production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum because they’re allegedly all sold out, which is a shame. They ought to extend their run because the show is that funny and that well put together.

This is about the sixth version of the  bawdy musical based on a Roman farce that various local theaters have staged over the last ten years, and despite the cramped quarters and tiny stage at Ridgefield, it is definitely the best. Why? Chalk up the success to the deft hand of director-musical boss Craig David Rosen, and to a terrific cast, led by Jeff Porper, who plays the lead role of Pseudolous in the manner of Nathan Lane or Zero Mostel.

The “plot” turns on the proximity of three villas on a Roman street, 200 years before the Christian Era. On the right is the house of Erronious, who is out of town on a quixotic quest to find his missing children, kidnapped years ago by pirates. On the left is the infamous house of Lycus, a dealer in beautiful and slave-girl courtesans. In the middle, is the house of  Senex, a wealthy Roman, who is mercilessly henpecked by his shrewish wife, Domina.

When the married pair set off on a visit to the country to celebrate the birthday of Domina’s mother, they leave their son Hero in the care of two slaves, the servile and obsequious Hysterium, and the conniving Pseudolous, with the admonition that the innocent youth be kept safely away from Lycus and his brothel.

Hysterium is happy to comply, but when Pseudolous discovers that his strapping young charge is already in love with a mysterious young inmate from next door, he sees this as the opportunity to win his own liberty. He offers Hero a deal: I get you the girl, and you set me free.

When it turns out that the girl, Philia, is an expensive virgin, newly imported from Crete to be a bride for the great warrior, Miles Gloriosus,  the story gains its legs.

Forum was the first musical for which Stephen Sondheim wrote both the words and the music, and in my opinion, it is the only one in which the score is as catchy and entertaining as the lyrics. From the opening “Comedy Tonight (Tragedy Tomorrow)” through the duet “Lovely” and the romp “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” these are songs that you can go home humming.

Mr Rosen and Mr Porper milk the show for all its burlesque potential, amply supported by Lily Robinson, Deborah Shields, Sabrina Seidman, Merideth Trotta, Mary Marcell and Shannon Courtney-Egan as the stable of exotic courtesans Tintinabula, Panacea, The Geminae, Vibrata and especially Pseudolous’ favorite, Gymnasia.

Lisa Michelle Cohen is enchantingly dumb as the illiterate and innumerate Philia (it doesn’t matter because she’s lovely) and Joe Efferen is dopey and devoted as the stalwart Hero.

Craig Schreiber gives an interesting layer of complexity to the character of Hysterium, making him more than a mere stooge, while Ryan Bair plays the egotistical warrior Miles Gloriosus  with the hurt, angry, confused look of a latter day Mike Piazza who can’t seem to understand how he just struck out.

Tom Butterworth and Jody Bayer are the squabbling parents, Jim Cooper is the doddering Erronius, and Myles Rendon, Kerry McKeon, Allison Panissidi and Max Peters do a great job as the Proteans, who cover all the bit parts, ranging from Roman soldiers to eunuchs to local citizens.

It is rewarding to see that the same level of discipline and carefully rehearsed perfection that marked Ridgefield’s recent production of the very serious play, The Shadow Box, is entertaining audiences again now, with this very funny farce.

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