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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A funny, if adequate, night at the ‘Forum’

Published: April 15, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

Last week’s staging of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” directed by Lizzy Benway ’14, was highly entertaining, yet something was lost in translation. Although the Hillel Theater Group’s (HTG) production was very enjoyable while in the audience, in retrospect it was unimpressive and a bit flat.

This, however, was not due to a lack of trying. The set, designed by Jessica Rassp ’13 and Maayan Bar-Yam ’12, was beautiful, detailed and functional. Like a classic Roman play, the stage consisted of three house-fronts with doors leading to the interiors, which the audience never saw, and the play’s main action took place in the street in front of the houses. The middle house was painted to look like marble and included a functional balcony that many characters stood on throughout the play.

The house to the left, owned by Marcus Lycus (Isaac Rabbani ’14) the procurer of women, was decorated with pornographic outlines made to look like classic Greek vase paintings and a sign above the door boasting the name Priapus, a Roman fertility god. The house on the right, owned by Erroneus (Zev Hait ’14), was covered in Latin graffiti, denoting Erroneus’ long absence. The best of the graffiti read, “Romani ite domum,” which was a very clever reference to “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.”

Aside from the sets, the best part of the show was the music and the corresponding choreography. The music, conducted by Yoni Battat ’13, was perfect, despite overpowering some of the actors’ voices. By having such a large orchestra, Battat and Benway were able to do justice to Sondheim’s enthusiastic music. The only song that was not a success was “Bring Me My Bride” at the end of the first act, but this was because of the underwhelming vocals and not the orchestra.

Junior Beth Green’s choreography was stellar and really captured the humor in the play. While it seemed that some of the actors had trouble accomplishing some of the moves, the dance at the end of “Comedy Tonight,” which included the entire cast, was flawless. Two choreographic standouts were the dancing in “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” which was playful and complementary to the song, and the fight scene near the end between Pseudolus (David Frederick ’11) and the guards. Frederick employed moves from “The Karate Kid” and “The Matrix,” before eventually incapacitating the last guard with what appeared to be a Vulcan nerve pinch.

Along the same vein, the cast made used physical comedy well. The Proteans, played by Sophie Golomb ’13, Jamie Perutz ’13 and Jade Sank ’12, made great use of their bodies during “Comedy Tonight” to act out what Pseudolus was singing, causing the audience to convulse with laughter. The actors also interacted with the audience by dancing with them and sitting on their laps, again causing guffaws.

One comedic misstep in “Forum,” however, was the portrayal of the Eunuchs, played by Andrew Litwin ’11 and John Schnorrenberg ’14. They were rendered as homosexuals in pink robes that chased after all the men in a sexual mania. A eunuch is a man who is castrated either in order to halt the production of the hormones that cause sexual attraction or to halt the production of the hormones that cause the voice to deepen during puberty. A eunuch is not a homosexual. This portrayal was odd and thoughtless.

Despite this comedic hiccup, most of the show was hysterically funny, especially the parts with Hysterium (Herbie Rosen ’12). Rosen was, simply put, amazing. His character, aptly named due to his near-constant state of barely contained hysteria, got the most laughs out of all of the characters. Every time his character would get upset, Rosen would stomp around the stage, squealing out his frustration and frantically trying to stave off tears. And Rosen in drag was priceless; he wore a long, white dress and a disheveled blond wig in the second act that perfectly accompanied his falsetto voice and frightened cry of: “Why are old men so attracted to me?”

Like Rosen, Frederick, who played the main character, was very funny. During the song “Free,” he asks the audience, “Can you see me?” and chooses that moment to do a split that shows the audience his boxers. While Frederick was funny, he played Pseudolus a bit too similarly to how Rosen played Hysterium. Hysterium is meant to be the constantly panicking and unsure slave while Pseudolus is the conniving and intelligent slave, who can scheme his way out of any predicament. Frederick was missing the confidence that is an inherent part of Pseudolus’ character; he was too panicky during the show, whining when things didn’t seem to be working out. This took a lot of enjoyment out of the show because, while one Hysterium is funny, two is just too much.

This is perhaps why Levi Squier ’14 succeeded so much as Hero, the young lover. While he was very funny and had great comedic timing, he was definitely a unique character. He brought a certain naivety and juvenile silliness to Hero. Although Squier does not have the strongest singing voice, his voice fit the character and he was able to carry his songs.

Two of the best singers in the show were Abigail Clarke ’12 and Jackie Theoharis ’14, who played Domina and Philia respectively. They both had lovely voices that could be heard clearly and they both proved to be comedians. Every time Domina interrupted her husband Senex (Christopher Knight ’14) with that bossy tone of voice, the audience tittered. Theoharis played the dumb blond brilliantly as she forgot her lover’s name and admitted that she sometimes confuses the numbers three and five. It was a shame that they were both in so few songs, especially Clarke. It was a mistake on HTG’s part to choose a play with so few female singing parts when they had such a talented female cast.

While most Brandeis productions are truly phenomenal, this one felt like a high school production—good but not great.