A funny thing in Strider Theater
Kyle Rogacion (second left) plays the wily slave Pseudolus, who hopes to gain his freedom by helping unite his master Hero with the girl of his dreams.
On Saturday, Feb. 4, students and faculty filled the rows of Strider Theater to see Powder and Wig’s weekend production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, a musical comedy set in ancient Rome.
After opening remarks from the play’s directors Doug Newkirk ’12 and Tim Buckingham ’12, silence filled the room as Kyle Rogacion ’15 took the stage in an orange toga and offered a prologue to the performance. “The theater is a temple, and we are here to worship the gods of Comedy and Tragedy,” he said. The set behind Rogacion was vibrant and dynamic, looking like something from the Aesop & Son segment of the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. “Tonight, I am pleased to announce a comedy,” he said.
With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, is based on the works of the Roman playwright Plautus (251–183 BCE) and originally took the stage in 1962. Its initial success inspired a number of revivals—one of which starred comedians Nathan Lane and Whoopi Goldberg—as well as a 1966 motion picture.
Powder and Wig’s production was a notable addition to this comedy’s history on the stage.
The musical centered on the wily slave Pseudolus (Rogacion) and his quest to gain freedom from his master Hero (Ryan Winter ’13) and his family. He accomplishes this by helping Hero win the heart of his next-door neighbor Philia (Emily Harper ’15), who, as it turns out, belongs to the local pimp Marcus Lycus (Jordan Lorenz ’15). The plot further thickens when Hero discovers that the object of his affections has already been purchased by a Roman captain Miles Gloriosus (Trip Venturella ’12).
The neuroticism of Hero’s family causes several mishaps for Pseudolus, who walks a fine line, trying to bring the two young lovers together against all odds. Hero is surrounded by a dysfunctional household that includes his wrathful mother Domina (Julie MacLean ’15), his nervous and fearful father Senex (Chris Frasier ’12) and the crazed head slave Hysterium (Mike Trottier ’12), who takes particular pleasure in keeping his house in order.
This simple “star-crossed lovers” plot was both the musical’s strong suit and its main hindrance. While Winter and MacLean’s display of affection was appropriately simple-minded and wide-eyed considering their youth, the musical would have floundered if not for the sweeping comedic performances by its supporting cast of characters. Simply, their love was comedic ally nauseating.
Lorenz, in particular, was spectacular during “House of Marcus Lycus,” a musical number in which Lycus shows off his many ladies for sale—including an eye-boggling belly dancer, a gracefully pale set of twins and an oddly feline woman, to name a few.
Further, in the musical number “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid!” where Senex humorously mistakes Philia for his new servant, Frasier, Trottier and Rogacion break into a chorus line wrought with humorously misogynistic double entendres that garnered wild laughter from the audience.
Despite many disguises and pesky mishaps, the night was at its very essence a comedy—meaning the disorder in which the play opened was cleanly fixed, with everyone getting what they wanted. While this simple production may leave something to be desired from high-minded theatergoers, Powder and Wig put on one of its best performances to date, the proof being its beautiful costumes, magnificent set design, lively orchestra and spirited acting.