Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 23, 2009

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Goodspeed, East Haddam, CT
through November 29, 2009
by Shera Cohen

The introductory song of "Forum" says it all. "Comedy Tonight" is exactly what takes place on the Goodspeed stage. The plot is silly, the women are sexy, and the characters are stupid - all with a capital "S." One of Stephen Sondheim's early works, it is also one of the more accessible. Perhaps better known for profound lyrics that move the play forward rather than beautiful music, Sondheim does show off his skill as a wordsmith. However, this time the text is all for laughs.

"Forum," set in 200 BC, takes the audience to a cartoon setting painted with bright colors. It's a tale of noblemen and slaves, eunuchs and courtesans, long marriages and young love, warriors and wimps, mistaken identities, and cross dressing. Let's not forget the rubber chicken. This is vaudeville at its best, an increscent flow of one-liners with ba-da-bing endings. The story is sexist, risqué, dated (okay, it's Ancient Rome), and full of shtick. What could have been a drama about a slave seeking freedom is immediately tossed aside and replaced by constant comedy. Throughout the play, the fourth wall (the audience) is completely open. There is no pretense of anything serious, and as the first song also states - expect a happy ending.

There are three categories of characters/actors: an ensemble of those in leading roles, curvaceous women who stand a lot, and a trio of Proteans (think Keystone Cops, each portraying a dozen roles each). Adam Heller (Pseudolus) works up a literal sweat as he creates the chaotic plot. David Wohl (Senex) underplays so well that he becomes one of the top laugh-getters. If John Scherer (Hysterium) had failed in his role of the nervous nelly, by the book, feigned female, a huge chunk of "Forum" would have sunk in the nearby Atlantic Ocean. All went swimmingly well, as this is an actor whose every nuance is the epitome of humor and comic timing.

Director Ted Pappas moves his motley groups of characters (many dressed to look like jesters) at a very fast clip. "Forum" is a broad show with lots of physical humor. As dark winter comes to New England, take a trip to Rome, aka Goodspeed, for bright shiny fun.