I had the good fortune of attending a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum at The Bay Terrace Garden Jewish Center. In this show we follow a slave named Pseudolus (Frank Josephs) in his attempts to attain freedom. A chance at this appears when he figures out that his young master, Hero (Samuel Kaufman) is in love with the beautiful Philia (Michele Mazzacco). A simple plan to make her fall in love with Hero takes us on a comedic journey of forbidden love and mistaken identity.
What made this journey immensely enjoyable for me, as an audience member was the wit and comedic timing of Frank Josephs and Samuel Kaufman. They bounced off of each other seamlessly. A moment that stuck out was the number, Free in which Pseudolous sings about dreams and aspirations following Hero’s promise of freedom. The faces made by both actors created quite the humorous stir amongst the audience. Mr.Kaufman was quiet for much of the number but exhibited great listening throughout that story telling, which made his character lively.
Great passion was evident within the character of Hero. This character trait was used to add to the comedy when he’d cry out, “Oh, Philia.”, to which Philia would reply, “No, it’s just Philia!” This comedy played off the theme of the young, beautiful and dumb girl. Due to this fact, the actor playing Philia must be quite likeable or the character may slip into the territory of being annoying. Ms. Mazzacco added an undeniable charm to the character that made her constant confusion fun to watch. I found myself hoping for her happiness throughout the entirety of the show. However, Philia’s job as a courtesan did not make that hope easily achievable.
The dilemma keeping Hero and Philia from being together is that she has been sold by Lycas (Roger Leonardis), the owner of many colorful courtesans. In Pseudolous and Hero’s search for her they encounter what Lycas has to offer as far as women go. Here we are introduced to five women who exhibit their many, ahem, attributes. In their attempt to seduce Pseudolous, who has claimed to be a person of status, there were splits, whips and meows galore. The audience, greatly comprised of senior citizens, laughed as those racy parts appeared before us.
After being subject to that performance by the women, Hero finds Philia only to eventually learn that she’s been sold to a warrior who’s return is fast approaching. Pseudolous, thinking fast on his feet, comes up with a plan. He uses Philia’s cheery disposition to convince Lycus that she has a plague whose side effect is smiling often. In his panic Lycus is convinced by Pseudolous to bring her into his custody. Pseudolous claims that he’s already had the plague so it’s best that he watches her because he won’t get it again. This plan gives Hero and Philia time to fall in love with one another. Despite this, she stays true to what she has been taught and says that she will still marry the man she is betrothed to. What unfolds next is a plan to ensure she won’t marry him. Pseudolous tells her to go inside the house and when her warrior arrives he’ll knock three times. Pseudolous goes off in search of a potion that will render her unconscious so Hero can run off with her.
Senex (Eli Koenig), who’s the father of Hero, returns home early from a trip with Domina (Andria Amarosa) and happens to knock three times. This leads to a case of pure confusion regarding the identity of him. Mr.Koenig added to this confusing circumstance because he decided as an actor that his character was in constant confusion! This was evident in how he phrased his lines. Many of them were said as a question which unconsciously added to the already funny circumstance.
There are many other cases of mistaken identity and adventure before this musical rattles to an uplifting end. I appreciated the lighthearted feel of this show and encourage everyone to see a production of it.
High expectations were in place for this production after I’d been told that this would be an exciting new turn for this theater group. They had just gotten a new artistic director who brought a more current twist to what these theatergoers were used to. All of my expectations were met. I sat there throughout the show laughing hysterically at what this theater group brought to the table.