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THEATER REVIEW

The Getty's funniest treasure

September 08, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

The hills are alive with the sound of slapstick.

The Getty Villa has acquired another priceless artifact for its antiquities collection, namely, "Tug of War," at the Villa's outdoor amphitheater near Malibu. Based on Plautus' 2,200-year-old Roman comedy, "Rudens," the play has been newly translated by UCLA classics professor Amy Richlin.

Scholars and sticklers alike should be advised: This production is no huge bronze Herakles, unearthed from the ruins of an ancient temple. It's more a diminutive satyr, fashioned out of base metal, that grins out at us from a hidden corner -- say, adjacent to the restroom.

But then, the point of "War" is not its academic rigor, which is considerable, but its bawdy spirit, channeled across the centuries by director Meryl Friedman, a savvy theatrical medium who raises cheekiness to an art form.

Anyone familiar with "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" knows how durable Roman comedy can be. The same familiar archetypes populate "War" -- the tricky slaves, the ardent young lover, the larcenous procurer. There are even a couple of vestigial (no, we didn't mean vestal) virgins thrown in for good measure.

By some accounts, Plautus' original was cobbled together from two Greek plays. Working closely with Richlin, Friedman has compacted her challenging source material into a sprightly entertainment that never flags. To make things even livelier, Friedman has composed a sparkling original score, thoughtfully arranged by Bruno Coon and performed live by a small but vigorous ensemble of musicians.

Under the musical direction of Graham Jackson, the actors prove able singers, as well as virtuosic zanies. Bob Beuth splits sides in his drag turn as a mincing maiden whose d├ęcolletage reveals a hint of chest hair. Also hilarious is Albert Meijer as a flagrantly flamboyant Latin lover.

The rest of the cast includes Steven Totland, Curtis C., Peter Van Norden, Antoine Reynaldo Diel, Jill C. Klein and Cortney Wright, all comic standouts who are clearly having buckets of fun in this riotous, rollicking evening.

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'Tug of War'

Where: Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays

Ends: Sept. 29

Price: $35

Contact: (310) 440-7300, www.getty.edu

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

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