A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum July 17-19, 23-26, 8 p.m., $13-$20. Super Summer Theatre, Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, supersummertheatre.org.
Borscht-belt shtick and old-fashioned farce (and I mean ancient Rome old-fashioned) meet in the classic musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Unfortunately, in Second Star to the Right Productions and Super Summer Theatre’s current production of it, they don’t add up to laughs.
The plot is much too convoluted to be fully explained here, but suffice it to say that in the days of the Roman Empire, Pseudolus (played here by Bruce Block) is the wily slave of the young Hero (a dashing Cory Lloyd), who is in love with the comely girl next door, Philia (a delightful Celina Speights)—except the house next door is a brothel. Pseudolus can earn his freedom if he gets them together, so he sets out to do just that. And wackiness, as they say, ensues.
Or at least it should. While the jokes in Forum are almost as old as theater itself, if done well they can still snap. But timing and characterization are critical, and both are lacking pretty much across the board. Block’s performance is full of large mugging, but it lacks precision in timing and meaning, so while the largest and most obvious jokes are telegraphed, others are left to wither. He’s not alone in this. Stephen Rinck, as Hysterium, a fellow slave who should be a high-strung time bomb, is entirely too even-keeled, and so his jokes are lost.
Tim Bennett directed and choreographed the show—and he misses a wealth of opportunities in staging and choreography, too. Performers seem loathe to move out of the center of the stage, and for the opening and closing numbers the entire company stands around doing a great deal of hand choreography—which seems a tremendous mistake given the scale of the stage and audience at the Ranch.
It’s not a total loss. Steve Paladie’s sets are delightfully off-kilter and provide a great backdrop for the door-slamming final chase; the Proteans (Steven Dietrich, Rob Tyree and Keaton Johns) are dependably amusing; and some of the jokes do land. But when the biggest laugh of the evening comes from a reference to the other shows taking place this year at Super Summer Theatre, something’s gone wrong.