THERE'S A LOT going on in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the Kirkland Drama Society's fall production. The musical-comedy set in ancient Rome seeks to pull together elaborate dance numbers, a host of subtle one-liners, and an absurdly contrived plot with many minor characters. But with excellent casting and the help of an enthusiastic crowd, the 20-person company stages a fun, well-paced production which captures the audience's sense of humor.
The show's plot centers on the exploits of Pseudolus (U.S. Taylor), a slave trying to bargain his freedom from his master. Pseudolus sets up some romances and destroys others; he manipulates every member of his household and responds to the caprices of every player in the cast. He's also the "ringmaster" of the script's ill-conceived attempt to cast the show as a play-within-a-play.
The role of Pseudolus forces Taylor to carry most of the musical numbers, advance the plot, and deliver nearly all the punchlines. And he succeeds admirably. Taylor has an extremely friendly stage presence, largely the result of his outstanding timing. Many key jokes and puns strike the audience just right because of his ability to fit his voice and gestures to each particular instant.
Taylor gets help from a cast of unusual depth, in which the military hero (Michael Rapposelli), the middle-aged couple (Bill Tomic and Sue Bear) and the three "proteans" (Henry Biggs, Suzanne Tanner, and Tracey Trench) especially stand out. The latter set of characters show great comic versatility in moving among several jester-type roles: they are, in order, clowns, slaves, travelers, and foot soldiers, playing buffoons with enough restraint to keep from becoming annoying.
The above characters must be kept ignorant of the romance between the young Philia (Margery Trimble) and Hero (Nick Aiuto), deception which Pseudolus promises to maintain in return for his freedom. The script--liberally seasoned with campus allusions--relies on sexual jokes which play mostly on the naivete of the young couple ("A virgin? Is that good?") and the frustrations of everyone else. Many of these jokes hover at the borders of good taste, but given the Kirkland sponsorship of the show, the crowd finds this appealing.
Because of the ridiculousness of the plot and the absence of any real theme, the jokes fly almost uninterrupted. It's a good thing, too, because the show's dancing and orchestration are not up to the same level. The choreographers take a chance, on extending the stage across the length of Kirkland's Junior Common Room in an effort to spread out the dancing sequences. But the set leaves precious little room for forward movement by the cast, and it gives some of the audience an uncomfortably sharp viewing angle. Dancers appear to run mindlessly and without much enthusiasm from one end of the stage to another, and efforts to coordinate those prances with the score prove too ambitious for the orchestra.
FORTUNATELY, THE SHOW never strays too far from its comic trump cards--buffoonery and lewdness. The crowd is treated to a male slave (Bob Brown) being forced by Pseudolus to don women's clothing, only to be pursued by nearly every man in the cast. The young girl Philia plays her airhead-blonde character to the hilt, unwittingly offering herself to the wrong men and ruining the schemes designed to unite her with Hero. And Pseudolus moves rapidly from character to character, passing himself off as head of the house, a soothsayer, a brothel-keeper, and, of course, Cupid.
The plot's many crisscrossing threads unravel quickly in the final scene, which brings all the characters onstage and teaches them all about each other's motives and identity. A set of sudden coincidences leaves everyone, including the audience, both startled and pleased.
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" accomplishes what most House plays set out to do--it entertains without becoming pretentious, giving both the cast and the crowd a good time. Capable actors and clever jokes abound in this production, and only the long line for tickets should keep one from catching a performance.