Tug Of War

Review by Willard Manus

Titus Maccius Plautus (254-184 BC) was the Mel Brooks of his day. The Roman playwright specialized in lowbrow humor--puns, slapstick, ribaldry, music and dance. Twenty-one of his plays have survived, several of which were turned by Stephen Sondheim & Larry Gelbart into A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Now writer/director Meryl Friedman, working from a new translation by scholar Amy Richlin, has converted Plautus's Rudens into a farce called TUG OF WAR.

Presented recently at the Getty Villa in Malibu as part of its annual outdoor series in the Fleischman ampitheatre, TUG OF WAR

came off as inconsequential but funny and crowd-pleasing. Running ninety minutes without an intermission, WAR centers on a bunch of rogues, slaves and scammers trying to outfox each other in pursuit of a treasure chest (and a missing princess). With names like Valorus, Scupus, Bigbuxo, Lupus del Mar and Battleaxia, the characters are broadly drawn, but they are played with gusto and skill by the eight-person cast, led by Steven Totland as Deltoidus, the master of ceremonies who guides the audience through the fast-paced, oft-bewildering story.

Friedman also wisely spiced WAR with a slew of songs which she wrote for the production (backed by a trio of musicians). Everyone in the cast sang (and danced) well. Friedman set the action on a raised wooden platform and kept the actors visible at all times, even when changing costumes, giving an open, improvisational feel to the proceedings. In keeping with the bawdy, off-the-wall shenanigans, she had a male actor (Bob Beuth) playing a woman. Albert Meijer also drew easy (but hearty) laughs as a flamboyantly gay Latin lover.

Others in the skilled cast included Curtis C., Peter Van Norden, Antoine Reynaldo Diel, Jill C. Klein and Cortney Wright.

Next summer the Getty Villa will present Stephen Wadsworth's production of Aeschylus's Agamemnon. For more information visit getty.edu or call (310) 440-7300.