By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
And then there's the plays' weird visitor, over-tanned playboy Gavin Ryng-Mayne ("with a Y"), which actor Regan Adair now can add to his already heavy résumé of memorable turns as cads. Not only does Adair exhibit the best upper-crust English accent, he brings a fascinating, deliberately halting rhythm to his snake-y persona, like one of those handsome but oleaginous villains Alec Baldwin was so good at before he plumped up. When Gavin starts putting moves on young Sally in House, the laughs stop for good reason. But he gets his hilarious comeuppance moments later (chronologically) in Garden. Somehow Adair manages to slither coolly in and out of both plays without ever being out of breath from the journey up and down those stairs.
House and Garden may be slogs for the actors, but they're a breezy good time for the audience.
The title of the show is A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and that's an accurate description of the version currently on view at Addison's WaterTower Theatre. A funny thing does happen. One funny thing. In two-and-a-half hours. And it's not much, just a chuckle-inducing moment of vaudeville in a production that starts on a sour note, goes flat and stays flat to the bitter end.
Stephen Sondheim's 1962 musical sports a couple of dandy tunes ("Comedy Tonight," "Lovely") and a bawdy libretto by punchline masters Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, based in part on Roman comedies by Plautus written before the birth of Christ. So, jeez, what happened here? Director Terry Martin has made the weakest, un-funniest choices in almost every area, from casting to costuming to sight gags to hiring musicians who play as if they've just seen sheet music for the first time and they've all switched instruments on a dare. The drummer's off the beat, the horns screech and the trombones are a mess. It's like they tuned up in the key of F.U.
Forum is pure farce begging for pretty broad comedy and lots of pretty broads. The story is a classic jumble of clever servants, wealthy masters, mistaken identities and horny virgins. Slaves named Pseudolus (played by the extraordinarily unpleasant David Stroh) and Hysterium (Andy Baldwin reprising his same shtick from Trailer Park Musical) try to win freedom by orchestrating the romance of their master's son Hero (Sean Patrick Henry) with Philia (Kimberly Whalen), property of next-door brothel owner Lycus (Charles Ryan Roach). High jinks ensue, or should anyway, involving a clutch of dancing courtesans (sadly, a string of dead-eyed hoofers at WaterTower) and the Roman general (G. Shane Peterman) who has paid to bed Philia. Interrupting the action now and then is a doddering fool (Gordon Fox, who gets the one big laugh in the show) wandering the Seven Hills of Rome.
The second act features a chase scene that should have the antic energy of Keystone Cops. At WaterTower, people just run on and off, often with empty beats between exit and entrance. And it was a jolt on opening night, not a humorous one, when during the chase poor Philia, wearing tottery 5-inch heels, fell hard onto her kneecaps. One of the less cadaverous courtesans helped her offstage.
Wait, there is another funny bit worth mentioning: the scenery. Scenic designer Randel Wright has created the Forum set as a deviously visual giggle, using dollar-store doodads to serve as fancy columns, gilded cherubs and other witty touches over the stage's three main doorways. Look closely at the golden fringe on the gauzy curtains that form the proscenium arch—those are hundreds of spoons dangling daintily over the proceedings.
Shovels would have been more appropriate.