M’CHIGEENG—From the moment the curtain rose and the lights hit the stage, the audience and performers at Manitoulin Secondary School were taken on a journey that would include multiple cases of mistaken identity, love scenes, love triangles and death scenes—but mostly laughter.
On the evening of the final show of ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ the doors opened 30 minutes prior so people could take their seats and enjoy listening to the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) Bay Street Band warm up. Large columns on either side of the stage set the scene for the two-act play.
Artistic director Tom Scott addressed the audience prior to the first scene to say “I am pleased to present the play. We have been in rehearsals since mid October. Everyone has been working very hard and we had a blast.
This play, shared Mr. Scott, opened on Broadway in May of 1962 and after over 960 performances, closed in August of 1964. It was heralded as being one of the most successful plays in Broadway history.
Mr. Scott warned the audience that plenty of laughs were ahead, explaining that the playwright enjoyed creating farces, and a comedy of errors including gimmicks and borrowing from vaudeville. “I hope you enjoy the production tonight,” he said.
From the moment Dione Gordon took to the stage, no one could take their eyes off her and the bright red robe she wore in the role of Pseudolus, a slave with one goal in mind—to be free from his master Hero.
In the opening scene, Hero’s middle aged philandering father Senex (portrayed by Andrew Vokes) and overbearing mother Dominia (played by Rebecca Dawson) are preparing to take a journey to the countryside to visit her mother. As Senex hoists an oversized bust in the likeness of his mother-in-law he bids warning in his parting line “never fall in love during a total eclipse.”
Hysterium (played by Cody Crawford), who is ‘the pillar of virtue’ and a eunuch, has been put in charge of everything while they are away.
Hero falls in love at first sight with Philia (portrayed by Taylor Van Horn), a lovely yet innocent and naive courtesan (aka prostitute, especially one associating with noblemen or men of wealth). Pseudolus sees this as an opportunity to play matchmaker and his ticket to freedom. They work out a deal to which Hero shouts out “Get me that girl!”
Marcus Lycus, the merchant of love (portrayed by Jessica Jordison) and donned in royal purple robes, has a house beside the house of Senex. His beautiful ‘courtesans,’ for whom he has travelled the world, are made available to Hero, each with their own unique talents and beauty.
When Lycus brings Philia (the young woman he is smitten with) out to meet him, Hero’s heart is broken as he learns she had been bought and sold the day before to a Captain for 500 Monets.
Psuedolus now has to come up with a new plan to secure his freedom as the pairing between Hero and Philia is uncertain.
He decides to fake Philia’s death by giving her a sleeping potion, claiming to Lycus that she has contracted the plague after spending time in Crete. Philia asks Hysterium to borrow his book of potions, only to admit, “I just remembered, I cannot read.”
The merchants (portrayed by vice-principal Yana Bauer and MSS principal Laurie Zahnow) with their ‘Potion Notions’ provide the ingredients necessary for the sleeping potion with the exception of mare’s sweat.
The unexpected return of Senex is where the play turns into a comedy of gimmicks, chase scenes, mistaken identity, death scenes and general hilarity.
Philia, who refuses to drink the potion (after Pseudolus is successful in locating mare’s sweat) due to religious reasons, becomes the love interest of not only Hero but his father (who believes she is his new maid) and Roman general Erronius (portrayed by Max Chapman) who has returned to claim her.
Hysterium, dressed as Philia, and Dominia, who is playing ‘dress up’ to woo her husband, also resembling Philia, along with the real Philia, keep the audience and cast members guessing who will win the girl.
The Captain orders the death of Pseudolus, making him drink a deadly potion, however he has faked his death and as he leaps to his feet, claims “I have one word before I die—Intermission.”
Playgoers stretch their legs and after the trumpet sounds, take their seats once more for Act 2.
Pseudolus takes to the stage saying, “Welcome again, playgoers” and brings the audience up to speed on what took place during Act 1.
Pseudolus now faces the task of providing a body for the Captain as he is determined to have him put to death. “Gus the body snatcher owes me a favour,” states the freedom-seeking slave.
Pseudolus shares his shocking news: the body snatcher has died and someone snatched the body, to which there was much laughter from the audience and a well timed rim shot from the band’s drummer.
Senex, who has accidentally come in contact with the mare’s sweat, has enjoyed a luxurious bath of oils and essences then shares with the audience “I wish you could enjoy how good I smell. If I could only share a whiff of my scent with you.” (He pulls his robe away from his chest and this playgoer could indeed smell it.)
Hero now has to come up with a plan to get the contract for Philia from the Captain.
Hysterium, who is dressed as Philia (and has supposedly taken the potion), is now lying dead, awaiting the mourners to view the body. The Captain wants the body burned, however Pseudolus convinces him not to. The contract is placed on his body and is scooped up by Pseudolus, which is thrown through a window to Hero at the house of Senex.
Miles Gloriosus (played by Brad Sayyae), who has throughout the play walked through the scenes, now takes his third time around. He has been searching for his daughter his whole life. Hysterium, who is wearing a ring which is surrounded by a ‘gaggle of geese’ given to him earlier by Pseudolus, shouts, “I am not your daughter.” He is mistaken for his long lost daughter. “My daughter is a eunuch?!” exclaims Gloriosus.
The play ends with Hero and Philia together, Psuedolus has gained her freedom and Lycus continues her livelihood with her girls.
After the curtain fell Mr. Scott shared that it is “bittersweet” coming to the end of the running of the play. He thanked Ms. Zahnow for her support from the beginning and gave special kudos to Courtney Oswald, stage manager, who controlled everything, thanking her for her dedication to the project.
Heather Theijsmeijer, as technical director, was recognized for being his “detail diva” saying, “I don’t know how she keeps it all in her head. She knows her job inside and out.”
Chris Theijsmeijer was commended for leading the Bay Street Band saying, “you have added much to our experience,” to which he commented to the audience “thank you for putting up with my hand waving.”
Maya Holston and Willa Wilson as production assistants, Sean Patterson, lighting, Zoe Murphy, sound, Jill Ferguson, who he referred to as Money Penny, and Mr. Irving’s Grade 12 students were all recognized with much thanks and gratitude for their roles.
“Second last but not least,” Mr. Scott shared that he was proud that the actors showed the audience “how animated they can be.”
“It will be hard to top it but we will give it a shot next year.”