In my two drama columns for the online edition of today’s Wall Street Journal, I review a pair of regional revivals, Walnut Street Theatre’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in Philadelphia and Shakespeare & Company’s God of Carnage in Lenox, Massachusetts. Here are excerpts from both reviews.
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Fifty-five years after it opened on Broadway, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” remains the funniest musical ever written. The Larry Gelbart-Burt Shevelove book about hanky-panky in ancient Rome is so well wrought that it could almost be successfully performed without Stephen Sondheim’s score, though Mr. Sondheim’s elegantly turned songs add immeasurably to the total effect. In addition, “A Funny Thing Happened” is also a time capsule, a vade mecum of baggy-pants vaudeville comedy elevated to the highest possible level of theatricality. It’s possible to put a fresh spin on the show, as Jessica Stone did in her wonderful 2015 all-male Two River Theater revival, but it isn’t necessary, and there’s much to be said for doing it the old-fashioned way, so long as you have a cast and director who speak the all-but-lost language of Catskills-style kill-or-be-killed comedy—which is where Frank Ferrante comes in.
Mr. Ferrante, the director and star of Walnut Street Theatre’s revival of “A Funny Thing Happened,” got his start playing Groucho Marx in a 1986 off-Broadway revue written by Arthur, Groucho’s son. Though he’s only 54, he looks and sounds just like the kind of comedian you might have seen working at Grossinger’s Catskill Resort Hotel three-quarters of a century ago. Every time he opens his mouth and spits out punch lines, you can smell the cigar smoke halfway up the aisle. Mr. Ferrante plays Pseudolus, the scheming Roman slave whose role was created on Broadway by Zero Mostel, and it’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job.
Not only is Mr. Ferrante a marvelous performer, but he’s also staged “A Funny Thing Happened” with explosive comic punch…
“God of Carnage,” Yasmina Reza’s comedy of bad manners about two New York couples whose children get into a bloody playground fight, has been making the regional rounds ever since the Broadway production closed in 2010. It’s easy to see why: Who wouldn’t want to do a tightly written, ferociously funny hit that calls for only four actors and one simple living-room set? I’d been wondering, though, how well Ms. Reza’s clever variation on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” was holding up after seven years of hard use, so when Shakespeare & Company announced that it would be performing “God of Carnage,” I decided to go see for myself. I’m immensely pleased to report that Regge Life’s staging, performed in the company’s 186-seat Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, is terrifically potent, and that the play itself, which skewers with lip-smacking gusto our collective pretensions of middle-class gentility, appears not to have aged a whit….
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To read my review of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, go here.
To read my review of God of Carnage, go here.