SALT LAKE—Having never seen Stephen Sondheim’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum on stage (I had only ever seen the film version), I was interested to see how this exuberant farce would turn out in the small space of the Babcock theater. I was pleased to find that the stage was utilized well, with colorful and creative set design by Cara Pomeroy. I was reminded of Disneyland by the pastel house facades and neatly-trimmed hedges. Indeed, I must say that the things that sparkled most in this production were the technical aspects: the dazzling and detailed costuming by Megan Jensen, the well -executed sound design by Michael Horejsi, and the lighting design by Jack Roach, which was almost a character unto itself, lending to the comedy with careful use of spotlights and colored washes to emphasize character moods and ideas.
The main problem with this show was pacing. Farces, as a rule, need to be lightning fast. Of course, one should always allow time for laughs, but there were moments when lines should have been delivered much more quickly than they were. Though there was some excellent comedic moments that took time to carry out (for example, a recurring bit where an old man—Erronius, played by Daniel Amsel—shuffles doggedly across the stage in order to rid his house of a ghost), the play as a whole often plodded along. I felt, as well, that certain songs should have been cut, namely “Love, I Hear,” “Free,” and “Pretty Little Picture,” if only to speed things up. David Schmidt (director), would have done well to place most of the emphasis on velocity.
In the lead, Taylor J. Smith (Pseudolous), did decent work. Fairly adept ad ad-libbing, he was able to play with the audience, which was fun. He also had a lovely singing voice, easily the strongest in the show. As an actor, Smith could use some polishing—he often seemed as though he didn’t know what to do with his hands, and his timing in general was just a tad off—but overall, his performance was a solid one.
The actor that stood out the most to me was Devin Rey Barney as Hysterium. An excellent comedian, Barney kept the pace rolling as he flitted and fussed about the stage, his frenetic energy punctuating the piece nicely. A favorite scene of mine was one wherein Hysterium is dressed in drag in order to carry out a scheme. The bit is an old one—a man in a dress, hardy har har—and is usually only as good as the actor who performs it, because it is his job to make it fresh . In this feat, Barney did not disappoint. Initially displeased with the situation, Hysterium gradually grows to appreciate and even revel in his appearance in the gown and wig, preening and posing with self-satisfaction that was entertaining as it was endearing.
There isn’t much for women to do in this show , but Olivia Custodio (Domina), and Arielle Schmidt (Philia), were forces to be reckoned with. Custodio’s performance in her solo “That Dirty Old Man” was one of my favorites, and she had magnificent presence on the whole. As the ingénue, I was pleasantly surprised by Schmidt’s knack for clowning. I’m typically rather bored by the young lovers in any given production, but it was apparent that Schmidt realized that the lovers Sondheim created in this piece were supposed to be funny, and her mugging and punching of jokes lent themselves to service this idea. I wished that her director had given her more to do—for example , some business during the slow, soporific “Love, I Hear”—because I feel she would have handled it well .
The show, by and large, was cast very well , and for that I must give kudos to director David Schmidt, as casting is more than half the thing that can make or break a show. Everyone fit their roles perfectly, from the lovely dancers that played the courtesans, to the forceful General Gloriosus (Brian Manternach), to the philandering Senex (Lucas Goodrich). There wasn’t a weak singer in the cast, and when voices joined together—“Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” “Comedy Tonight”—the results were charming.
The U Department of Theater delivers up an enjoyable production in “Forum,” definitely worth a viewing if one would like to be taken out of their usual routine by something light, fluffy, and wonderfully silly.