by the Rev. Msgr. Kevin M. Wallin
Revivals are a challenge. They invariably invite comparisons with the original, as recollections of actors, designers and directors who forever shape the concepts of characters and settings are recalled and involved vis-a-vis any new production. The current revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum meets and exceeds the challenge. This production is a triumph. The team which brought to Broadway such recent outstanding revivals as Guys and Dolls have collaborated again to breathe new life into a musical that is too rarely restaged, but which brims over with zest and wit.
From the opening moments it is clear that this Forum, while essentially faithful to the original book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, has new sparkle and a life all its own, due in no small measure to the skillful direction by Jerry Zaks.
Forum is based upon several farcical plays by the Roman author Titus Maccius Plautus, written about two hundred years before the birth of Christ. Classically comic, often lowbrow and bawdy, the plays use every stock character imaginable, from young starry-eyed lovers to muddled old men. The foibles of everyday living, as well as the joys and tragedies of life, are presented in humorous and uplifting ways. First explored by Shevelove when he was at Yale, what Plautus had to say about the personalities which populate society is cleverly captured in Forum. These characters are as present today as they were two millennia ago. The trick, now as then, is to capture the remarkable and worthwhile aspects of life, be it easy or difficult. As is too often repeated throughout the show, tragedy is for tomorrow, "Comedy Tonight"
Visit Rome today and one can see the remnants of the ancient Forum. They are a reminder of what was once a glorious civilization. Although much of first century Rome has disintegrated, there remain elements of that society which will forever endure. Principles of Roman law, military strategy, historical records, poetry, art and many other aspects of that civilization continue to be valued as part of our Western heritage. The play of Plautus are part of this cultural treasure.
Perhaps the greatest legacy of Rome, despite all early efforts to stamp it out, is Christianity. Indeed, the symbol of Imperial Rome best known throughout the world stands immediately adjacent to the Forum, the Coliseum. That edifice, where thousands of Christians were martyred, is today a ruin. In contrast, the Church now dominates the Eternal City, and it has for centuries. Making one's way to the Forum today serves as a reminder that many earthly achievements decay or are forgotten. However, there are things which endure, and although ruin may befall us, we need not be overwhelmed by the tragedies of life. That is the serious message which lies at the heart of Forum. It is also the principal of Christianity.