Titus Maccius Plautus was an early Roman playwright whose comedies left a legacy that continued through the Middle Ages and Renaissance until the modern day. His characters - the clever slave, the lustful old man, the star-struck lovers and the impertinent joker – became stock characters in everything from Commedia dell’Arte to Borscht Belt burlesque.
It is no wonder that the great comedy writers Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, inspired by Plautus’ comedies, set out to write a modern-day Roman comedy musical, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. The show, which starred Zero Mostel, opened in 1962 and ran for nearly 1,000 performances, earning multiple Tony awards. Bursting with off-color puns, sly asides and goofy musical numbers, the show endures both as an iconic mark of its time as well as a timeless tribute to the comedic form.
Director Joseph Leo Bwarie, who is also the co-Artistic Director of the newly constituted Garry Marshall Theatre, plumbs not only the heights of comedy, but also some the deeper resonance of the piece. Beneath the laughs are the more serious themes of freedom and slavery, the battle of the sexes, the foibles of both the old and the young, and the ultimate ridiculousness of the human condition. Bwarie employs the age-old techniques of Commedia as well as the tradition of Borscht Belt humor, peppering in all the elements of farce while adding a few contemporary asides to boot.
Paul C. Vogt, in the leading role of Pseudolus, is a skilled master of ceremonies, frequently breaking the fourth wall to include the audience in on the fun. Kevin Symons is a delightfully henpecked and lustful Senex, while Ethan Cohn is a bouncy and beguiling Hysterium. Kudos also to Clayton Snyder as the vainglorious general Gloriousus and to Candi Milo as the ornery matriarch Domina. Michael Thomas Grant and Nicole Kaplan are solid as the young lovers. This latest show is certainly a fitting tribute to the memory of Garry Marshall, who brought so much comedy into all of our lives.