Wednesday, May 13, 2009

*A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum* -- Philia, Hero, Hysterium and Pseudolus

at Spokane Civic Theatre's Main Stage, May 15-June 14, 2009
directed by Diana M. Trotter

[photo by Josh Smith -- in back: Callie Bley as Philia and Jesse Ward as Hero
In foreground: Gary Pierce as Hysterium and Jerry Sciarrio as Pseudolus ]

Opened on Broadway 47 years ago this week with Zero Mostel as Pseudolus and Jack Gilford as Hysterium.
Jerome Robbins, of course, is the one who insisted that the show needed a rousing opening number -- which inspired Sondheim to write "Comedy Tonight."
Based on three plays written 2,200 years ago by the Roman playwright Plautus.
Erich Segal wrote translations of Plautus -- his translation of *Miles Gloriosus,* for example, appeared in 1969, the year before *Love Story* (the novel; the Ali McGraw-Ryan O'Neal movie appeared in '71); Segal continues to this day as a classics scholar.
All three actors who have played Pseudolus on Broadway (Mostel '62, Phil Silvers '72, Nathan Lane '96) have won the Tony for Best Actor.
The 1966 film was Buster Keaton's last; he played Erronius. Michael Crawford (as in Phantom)) was Hero. Mostel and Gilford reprised their stage roles from four years before. Michael Hordern (distinguished British actor, played King Lear and Prospero in the BBC Shakespeare series of 1978-84) played Senex. But the movie cuts Pseudolus' song "Free," which he sings right after making the deal with Hero and falling out of a tree. The movie, in fact, cuts much of Sondheim's score.

Pseudolus is the laziest slave in Rome. He yearns to be "Free." When Senex and Domina leave town, Pseudolus gathers that their son Hero has the hots for the virgin-among-courtesans next door, Philia. If Pseudolus procures the girl for Hero, can he gain his freedom? Well, there are a few complications along the way.

The two houses next door belong to Marcus Lycus, the pimp for a house of ill repute, and Erronius, who's out wandering around and looking for his long-lost son and daughter.

Philia has been promised to Miles Gloriosus ("braggart soldier"). So Pseudolus convinces Marcus Lycus that Philia caught the plague in Crete -- she really needs to be sequestered over at Hero's house. But Marcus Lycus insists that Philia ultimately belongs to the army captain.
So Pseudolus concocts a story about how Philia has died of the plague -- which requires him to get her a sleeping potion that will mimic death. Then Philia and Hero can stow away on a boat and be together. Pseudolus gets a recipe for a sleeping potion from Hysterium, the head slave; all he lacks is a key ingredient, mare's sweat.

But then Senex returns home unexpectedly, and things get complicated. For reasons too complicated to go into, Philia throws herself at Senex (thinking that he is the army captain), and he's only too happy to play along; Senex decides to take a bath in Erronius' house, just before the latter returns from his wandering; Erronius is convinced that his own house is haunted, and so Pseudolus sends him on a wild goose chase all around Rome, just to be rid of him.

Miles Gloriosus turns up to claim his bride, which causes Pseudolus to impersonate Marcus Lycus and come up with a not-very-good lie. The army captain gets suspicious, and Pseudolus looks to be in a really tight spot. When Domina shows up, worried that her husband Senex might be engaging in some hanky-panky, she disguises herself in a virginal white robe and veil -- just like Philia, and just like Hysterium, who's in drag because ... oh, just go see the show.

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