Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Albert Henderson
The Little Theatre on the Square’s take on “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is reminiscent of classic 1970s and 80s comedies, but with a curious musical edge — you’ll believe Mel Brooks met Victor Hugo.
The comedy in this play only worked because of the traits of its characters. Pseudolus is elegantly funny. Hero is sexy and charming, as you would expect of someone named Hero. Hysterium is a girl’s gay best friend. Marcus Lycus is a cowardly money-loving pimp. Senex (father of Hero) is a perverted middle-aged man. Philia is a traditional dumb blonde with a loving twist, and Miles Gloriosis is an arrogant hunk with acrophobia.
This play is based on the novel written by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart is a farce about a slave trying to win his freedom by helping his master (Hero) win the heart of a girl next door. Stephen Sondheim originally wrote the music and lyrics for the original 1962 Broadway hit. It has a traditional Mel Brooks farce feel, but with the lyrical edge of Hugo’s Les Misérables.
The music draws you into the play with its downright silliness and playfulness. It could be said that it would be fun for the whole family, but unless you cover their eyes the whole time, that wouldn’t be the case. This play is as close to raunchy and risqué as you can get without being over the top.
At one point in the play, a courtesan was essentially in just a breastplate and underwear. Even though that sounds too edgy, it wasn’t. Her attire was designed to provoke a comical reaction from Pseudolus, something the audience really enjoyed.
Something that surprised me was the lack of cursing. Normally in a play like this one, one would expect an abundance of swearing, but that’s not the case with “Forum.” In fact, there isn’t a single curse during the entire play, and some, like myself, believe if it did include swearing, it wouldn’t have been as good as it was.
Even if the subject matter of a play is noteworthy, there has to be more to it than that, and ‘Forum’ has it in its acting.
The acting in this play was exceptional. The parts in this play are extremely exaggerated, yet the actors play them without a hitch.
Robert Anthony Jones’ (Pseudolus) acting really pulled the play together as well. Since most of the comedy revolves around him, he has to be especially funny, and he was just that. With his dialogue and facial expressions, he became a dominant comedic force on the stage.
In one instance he needs to get out of a sticky situation, and yells, “Wait! A brilliant idea.” To which Hero asks, “Really?” and Pseudolus says,” Yes! That’s exactly what we need.”
His facial expressions were also noticeable throughout the play, such as the instance mentioned with the courtesan earlier – his mouth started gaping and he had a look of wonder in his eyes, and they were always very comical.
Something that may have surprised the audience was the shock comedy; at one point in the play a courtesan started stripping onstage (All of her parts were covered; don’t worry) and surprised the entire audience, and Pseudolus.
Another thing Jones did well was breaking the wall between audience and cast; usually when someone does this, it seems forced and generic, but he did it in a way that flowed correctly, and it was very fun and interesting.
Everyone who watched was enthralled from start to finish, from the musical intro “Comedy Tonight” to “Finale Ultimo” to everything in between. 4/4 stars