Roman holiday

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

Hero (Tony Garcia) is not tempted by the courtesans. He only has eyes for Philia.

Hero (Tony Garcia) is not tempted by the courtesans. He only has eyes for Philia.

Photo By David Robert

Rated 5.0

The Romans had silly names, or so it seems if you count all the times their names have been spoofed. First, I think of Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Michael Palin’s lisping Pontius Pilate, “I have a vewy gweat fwiend in Wome called Biggus Dickus … He has a wife, you know … Incontinentia Buttocks.”

Second, I think of Steven Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. The names aren’t quite as bawdy, but they do describe their characters with corny accuracy. There’s the slave Pseudolus, who is willing to tell all sorts of pseudo truths to win his master, Hero, the virgin bride, Philia, so that he may become a free man. There’s Hero’s old-man father, Senex, and his control-freak of a mother, Domina, who continually calls for her high-strung, bumbling servant, Hysterium. There’s poor, old Erronius, whose children were snatched from him years ago by pirates. Finally, there’s Lycus, the courtesan dealer and Miles Gloriosus, a warrior who has arranged to purchase Philia from Lycus to the dismay of Hero.

For the grand opening of their Nell J. Redfield Performing Arts Center in Keystone Square (longtime locals will remember the location as the old Keystone movie theater and will be impressed by how it sparkled up), Truckee Meadows Community College is taking a shot at A Funny Thing Happened. Considering it’s a mammoth production, calling for more than 30 performers who all act, dance, sing and perform stunts, the TMCC performers do an amazing job. Paul Aberasturi directs, and Jennifer Martin is musical director for the 10-chair live orchestra.

In the lead role is Raysel Long as Pseudolus; he also choreographed. I had to check to make sure that Long was actually a student at TMCC. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I’d been told that Long was making a guest appearance while taking a break from the same role on Broadway. He had chemistry with every actor, he delivered every joke and line with flawless nuance, he had a powerful, distinctive voice and looked great in a blue toga.

When there were minor theatrical flubs, Long’s improvisational skills covered them up with poise. Pseudolus talked about preparing a potion that would make Philia appear dead, when he tossed a scroll to Hero (Tony Garcia) that didn’t quite make it—Long ad-libbed that he also needed to make a potion that would help him to throw things better.

Echo Olsen seemed wholly comfortable in the ditzy and innocent role of Philia. For being an honest virgin—"What a terrible combination,” Pseudolus said—Olsen brought fire and fervor and an operatic voice to what could have been a lackluster role.

The set and the costumes looked like they cost a heap of money, although TMCC was probably very thrifty. Two pink flamingos outside the house of Senex were a nice touch, as was the pimp-like costume of Lycus (Jimi Dowdell), whose toga was lined with animal print.

The actors were great, the songs were silly, the jokes were dirty. TMCC’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a riot of a Roman holiday.