May 6, 2001


A Funny Thing Happened
On the Way to the Forum

reviewed by
Lynn Trenning






















For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

For more information about Forum, or Theatre Charlotte, please visit

aired on WFAE, May 10, 2001

Theatre Charlotte's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, gave me a gift of pure reminiscence. When I was a kid, the best hour of rerun television was when The Andy Griffith Show preceded The Dick Van Dyke Show. The nightly event was introduced with the song, "Something for Everyone: A Comedy Tonight," which is also the lively opening tune in this ancient musical comedy of human conceit.

The play was written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart , which in turn is based on three plays written by the Roman Plautus, a 200 B.C. precursor to Shakespeare. Like the Bard, Plautus penned plays for common folks, eschewing the plights of the gods for the more mundane problems of the plebians.

The characters are exaggerated stereotypes, whose names include Hysterium and Panacea, and whose wacky and charming foibles range from vanity to greed to lust. The protagonist, Pseudolus, is a cunning slave who strikes a bargain with his master's lovestruck son, Hero. If Pseudolus can win for Hero the hand of the courtesan with whom he is senselessly infatuated, Hero will grant him his freedom.

This simple plot line is the excuse for fifteen songs, hilarious slapstick comedy, slipshod choreography, and exquisite lines such as "You'll be a eunuch all your life," and, "I have but one talent, I'm lovely." Not to mention a scintillating lineup of high priced courtesans whose tantalizing names include Gymnasia and Vibrata. Watch out, Uptown Cabaret!

The lyrics and music were Stephen Sondheim's first venture onto Broadway in 1963. Witty and ridiculous, the score is performed live by a toga-wearing, six piece orchestra. A Funny Thing Happened was outdated centuries before it was written, and though we like to think we are a bit more sophisticated than the ancient Romans, we're not. This play colorfully and amusingly taps into many of the base and vile instincts that typify our common humanity.

The ensemble production showcases a bedazzling array of elaborate costuming. The luscious virgin Philia, cloaked in a gauzy gown of peach, floated across the stage like a Dreamsicle on Prozac. The overbearing wife Domina, played with verve and great voice by Lynne Morris, sported a spider trimmed robe.

The acting was uneven, the voices primarily mediocre, and the theatre itself was uncomfortably warm. The Proteans, akin to Shakespeare's fools multiplied by three, were amusing despite, and perhaps because of, their inability to work as a team. Any choreography that required symmetry failed, yet the chase scenes were hilarious, and accentuated by a general sense of disorganization on stage. Kevin Campbell's Psuedolus had enough heart to cover all of his line slips. And Ed Reynold's Hero was so rosy cheeked and cherubic I wanted to adopt him.

This is a play that encourages you to laugh at doddering eunuchs, women as property, and slaves whose idea of achievement is to be named head slave. And I did so against a background of exuberant physical comedy, the timeless hilarity of cross dressing and mixed identities, and the earnest innocence of youthful beauty. I have to say, it was liberating to let go of every auspice of political correctness and let the joy of comedy dictate the night.

Lynn Trenning, May 6, 2001

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