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Stage Reviews : Holiday Fare At Grove; Dinner Theater Debuts With Gershwin : 'A Funny Thing Happened. . .'

November 21, 1986|CHALON SMITH

Rancho Santiago College has staged a sexy and playful "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," Stephen Sondheim's farcical ode to hedonism in ancient Rome.

Director Sheryl Donchey emphasizes the bawdy in this 1962 musical, peopling it with bikini-clad courtesans, grubbing procurers, salacious noblemen and sly, opportunistic slaves. The lines are heavy with double-entendres, and the sight gags feature a fair amount of groping and shimmying. But don't get the wrong idea: This is more vaudeville than anything else--innocent fun with a horny heart.

The action takes place in set designer and costumer Robert Fletcher's excellent mock-up of a Roman courtyard. It's a part of town that obviously never had to worry about red light zoning laws: Next to the estate of Senex, a randy patrician, towers the "House of Life" bordello where assorted lookers are bought or leased. Things get sticky when Senex's virginal son, Hero, glimpses Philia, a gorgeous airhead who's already been sold, and falls desperately in love. The ever-scheming Pseudolus, a gabby slave who knows how to work the angles, is offered a deal--his freedom in exchange for providing Hero with the girl. Not an easy job, and Pseudolus puts himself (and everybody else) in a jumble of trouble.

There are several reasons why this "Forum" works, and they begin with Donchey. She has brought an infectious, "hey, let's party" flavor that sets off the show's giddy quality. It's not a flawless approach--some of the jokes are played out a little too vigorously and have an oompah! accent at the punch line--but it clicks enough of the time to be effective. Donchey doubles as choreographer, giving the "working girls" some hot but tasteful moves to prance through.

She's also got a deft cast. As Pseudolus, Joseph Matarazzo presents a gassy, self-important busybody, whose only apparent charm is an ability to think on his feet. Matarazzo's voice is not outstanding, but he uses whimsical phrasings and accents to infuse his numbers with personality.

Also offering clever portrayals are Stephen Kennedy as Hero; Karen Angela as Philia; Michael Miller as Senex; Melanie Smith as Dominia, Senex's wife; Kent Johnson as Lycus, the greedy procurer; Robert MacKenzie as Hysterium, a simpering slave and Pseudolus' foil; and George Sullivan as Miles Gloriosus, the pompous warrior who has bought Philia.

Fletcher's comically Romanesque costumes are clever.

"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" runs through Nov. 29 at Rancho Santiago College's Phillips Hall, 17th and Bristol streets, Santa Ana. Information: (714) 667-3163.

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