Review: ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’ at Silhouette Stages at Slayton House

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The classic musical farce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, danced and sang its way on stage this week at Slayton House. The show is presented by the very talented Silhouette Stages, directed and produced by Conni Ross.

Bob Gudauskas (Pseudolus) and Todd Hochkeppel (Erroneous) in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Photo by Russell Wooldridge.
Bob Gudauskas (Pseudolus) and Todd Hochkeppel (Erroneous) in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Photo by Russell Wooldridge.

Forum was inspired by the farces of the Roman playwright Plautus. The plot, like many of the classical farces, is filled with bawdy language, mistaken identities, puns, and some satire on the social classes of antiquity. The plot is nothing more than contrived complications that are simply there to entertain. It is reminiscent of the early Marx Brothers’ films, Laurel and Hardy and Abbot and Costello. It opened with the incomparable Zero Mostel as Pseudolous, a crafty slave seeking his freedom. Pseudolous is the prized role and has been revived with Phil Silvers, Nathan Lane, and even Whoopi Goldberg.

The plot begins in Rome and centers around the homes of Senex (Don Patterson), his wife Domina (Ande Kolp), his son, Hero (Tommy Malek) and their slaves, Pseudolus (Bob Gudauskas) and Hysterium (Matt Scheer), their neighbor Lycus, the local dealer of courtesans, and the home of Erroneous, now wandering for many years in search of his two children who were kidnapped when they were very small.

The fine acting, directing, set, lights, choreography, and costumes make this production outstanding. Gudauskas captures Pseudolus and is strong enough to have all the rest revolve around his performance. His performance starts and ends the play with the most memorable song of the show, “Comedy Tonight.” His performance is without flaw.

There are also very strong supporting performances by Tommy Malek and Rachel Sandler as the star-crossed lovers, Hero and Philia. They have great chemistry in one of the other notable songs, “Lovely” and are very funny with Pseudolus performing “Pretty Little Picture.”

Scheer also creates a great deal of the laughter with is performance as Hysterium. Scheer, Dunne, Patterson and again Gudauskas have perfect comedic timing in “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.” One of the best acted and funniest scenes is the reprise of “Lovely” now with just Hysterium, dressed as a virginal bride, and Pseudolus.

Adding humor to this is Kolp as the stereotypical harpy wife, Domina, Richard Greenslit as the Roman soldier Miles Gloriosus and Todd Hochkeppel as the befuddled and nearsighted Erroneous. All give standout performances.

Bob Gudauskas (Pseudolus) with Courtesans Allie Press and Kelly Nguyen. Photo by Russell Wooldridge.
Bob Gudauskas (Pseudolus) with Courtesans Allie Press and Kelly Nguyen. Photo by Russell Wooldridge.

As with many Silhouette Stages productions, the chorus of many talented singers and dancers polish the show. Christine Hurst, Maggie Walker, So-Young Chun, Allie Press, Kelly Nguyen and Jackie Rebok play the Courtesans. Bill Pond, Douglas Tomas, Jacob Hale, Michael Cornell, Neal Townsend and Sean Mill play the Proteans, Eunuchs and Soldiers.

Ross’s direction. along with the choreography of Tina De Simone. assisted by Maddie Bohrer, is what sets this production apart. Timing is so important in a farce where visual comedy and stand-up comedy style punchlines are the dominant sources of humor. The timing here is seamless. The dancing is often purposely silly and laughable and DeSimone keeps the steps simple so that everyone is in step.

The set conveys an ancient Roman street with the houses of the three neighbors side by side. Alex Porter’s set design was extremely interesting with many angles, and included balconies, second story windows and other touches that made you feel you were back in time. It takes a lot of imagination and hard work to construct such a complicated set.

Mark Scanga’s lighting also helped create the mood, and he successfully lit actors’ entrances through the audience without blinding the views.

The costumes are designed by Linda Swann. She does an excellent job creating Roman soldiers’ uniforms, courtesans’ sensuous wardrobes, togas and three “bridal costumes” for three very different characters.

If you just want a night of sheer entertainment, this production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum truly offers something for everyone.

Running Time: One hour and 50 minutes, with an intermission.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum plays through Sunday, March 25, 2018 at Silhouette Stages performing at Slayton House Theatre in Wilde Lake Village Center— 10400 Cross Fox Lane, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or purchase them online.