by T. LeRoy Perreira
At the intimate Burgess Theater in Menlo Park, a production of Stephen Sondheim's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" has taken the stage courtesy of the Menlo Players Guild. The musical comedy is the final show of the company's 1994-'95 season. "Forum" itself is no great musical. It has but one set, three costume changes and the thinnest excuse for a plot. But such is the wit and clarity of Sondheim's lyrics--teamed with the slapstick gaiety created by director Ken Sonkin and a cast of zanies--that even the throwaway smirks and stammerings get a chuckle, and a Roman salute of pounding one's fist to chest armor and crying "ouch!" almost seems like a fresh comic invention.
Anyone with a taste for good old-fashioned cross-dressing, virginity, eunuchs, love potions, lechery, conniving girls, aging satyrs, brothels and belly dancers should have a rousing time at this one.
We find ourselves on a street in Rome (circa 200 B.C.), where a slave (Richard Forrester) is trying to gain his freedom by filching a virgin bride for his master's son (Mark Hoebich). The girl, Philia (Carolyn Dingwall), finds herself in a brothel, until the navel-gazing warrior Miles Gloriosus (Tom Caldecott), who has purchased her, returns from battle.
Meanwhile, the slave's master, Senex (Mark Drumm), is caught between his disinterest for his wife (Sally Pfleiderer) and his affection for the beautiful virgin girl next door. All lather themselves into a frenetic tizzy, including a dizzy chase scene that could outdo O.J. and the L.A. police force.
As the prologue narrator and the wily slave, Forrester hardly needs to use more than a wink or knowing look to get the audience howling. Ditto for Ed Glazier's Hysterium, an obsequious slave who is persuaded to masquerade in a bride's gown and wig and falls in love with his new look. The reprise of the act-one tune "Lovely" pairs Forrester and Glazier in what was clearly the evening's show-stopper.
Director Sonkin, a veteran of the ACT and Berkeley Repertoire Theatre stages, has made good use of his cast of 18, and manages to keep the vulgarity of the physical action from veering into the offensive.
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"
Who: Menlo Players Guild
When: 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat. through May 20 with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee May 7
Where: Burgess Theater, 601 Laurel St., Menlo Park
Information: 322-3261 or 322-3100
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