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Musical Theatre Guild's weak Forum is far from funny

A FUNNY THING HAPPENED

ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM

Presented by

The MIT Musical Theatre Guild.

Directed by James Lopata.

May 11-13, Sala de Puerto Rico.

By DEBBY LEVINSON

"T RAGEDY TONIGHT" would be more like it. MTG's production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum was stultifyingly amateurish: overacting and the cast's limited voices were but two of the major problems.

Forum opened inauspiciously when the orchestra's crisp horn tones quickly deteriorated into the lackluster and unfocused phrases that marked the rest of the musical program. Their intonation was poor, and their sound so unenthusiastic it seemed as though conductor Louis Toth '89 had held rehearsals underwater. While occasionally the orchestra proved to be adequate, they often overpowered the vocalists, a particularly disturbing tendency given the profusion of wrong notes played.

The actors hardly fared better. Lovesick Hero (Arthur Fuscaldo) was so appallingly wholesome and na"ive he became completely unbelievable. His gestures and facial expressions were forced -- his face perpetually frozen in a simpering smile -- but at least his voice was passable, if lacking in strength.

The character of his prospective mate Philia (Lisa Reidhaar-Olson G) was equally insipid, resembling a cross between Saturday Night Live's Victoria Jackson and I Dream of Jeannie-era Barbara Eden. Reidhaar-Olson was as "lovely and winsome" as the script prescribed, but her acting was wooden.

Sly slave Pseudolus (Mike Pieck '92) was not nearly as manic as he should have been; like Fuscaldo's Hero, he had a grin on his face for the duration of the play. The scene in which he posed as sleazy pimp Marcus Lycus was amusing, but in most instances his performance was unremarkable. His singing voice was adequate but undistinguished.

Poor singing was also a problem for Rick Buellesbach '90, who portrayed self-aggrandizing general Miles Gloriosus. Buellesbach's voice was thin and reedy, and he clearly had not mastered the breath control necessary for effective singing: his face turned bright red as he held the final note of "Bring Me My Bride."

Of the other bit characters, only Stephen Peters '91 as the unctuous head slave Hysterium and Dan Henderson '91 as the doddering Erronius were worth watching. Henderson's periodic appearances on stage to announce his progress in his trek around Rome's seven hills -- he's been assigned this task to rid his house of evil spirits -- were very funny.

The staging of the musical was as weak as the acting and singing. Director James Lopata defended his change of setting from ancient Rome to 1950's Rome, New York by saying "A Funny Thing ... commented on our own 1950's stock ideals. Today, a stock look at our own 1950's provides insight as well as entertainment." Whatever insight Lopata may have intended never came through, for the only 1950's elements of his production of Forum were the ersatz fur coat worn by Marcus Lycus (Nelson Sharfman '91) and Philia's poodle skirt. Period clothing, no matter how clever, is no substitute for the "insight" Lopata promises. It is also difficult to suspend one's disbelief long enough to imagine that New Yorkers of the 1950's owned slaves, mixed magic potions, and built funeral pyres to bury their dead.

Had Lopata been able to introduce some more aspects of the 1950's, perhaps his otherwise creative staging would have worked. As it stands, the staging is merely a distraction.

Lopata could have also taken into account the fact that the Sala de Puerto Rico does not have elevated seating for its audience (as would a more conventional theatre). Consequently, occasions in which the actors perched on the lip of the stage or fell to the floor left audience members craning their necks to see.

MTG's next musical will be Little Shop of Horrors, a musical with even more demanding staging but fortunately less potential for innovative production. With a full summer to rehearse, MTG has ample opportunity to correct the glaring flaws of Forum.