What the modest stage at Sag Harbor’s Bay Street Theatre lacks in size it more than makes up for with the sheer talent of the actors who perform there, an attribute most recently observed in the theater’s current production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which is directed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge and stars Peter Scolari.
Scolari, who shot to fame in the early 1980s as Tom Hank’s roommate in “Bosom Buddies” and currently stars as Lena Dunham’s fictional TV father on HBO’s “Girls,” is equal parts witty and bawdy in the lead role of Pseudolus, a Roman slave who tries to win his freedom by helping his young master romance the beautiful girl next door.
The musical, which runs through Sept. 1, was inspired by the lewd writings of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus circa 200 B.C. First written as a book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, “Forum” made its Broadway debut in 1962, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. “It all takes place on a street in Rome, around and about these houses,” Scolari informs the audience in his first lines, gesturing to a row of three colorful little houses with working second-floor balconies designed by Michael Schweikardt.
The plot gets moving when Pseudolus and his master, Hero, make a deal: Pseudolus will get his freedom if he helps Hero win the affections of the beautiful courtesan Philia, who lives next door at a house belonging to procurer Marcus Lycus.
The task would be simply enough were it not for Miles Gloriosis, a vain and commanding warrior who has recently purchased Philia and is on his way to claim her.
What are two men — one desperately in love, the other desperate to be free — to do? It’s all unfolded in the sweetly raucous show, which is energized by the dry delivery of Scolari and the supporting cast, including Conrad John Schuck as Hero’s philandering father, Senex, and Jackie Hoffman as Domina, Senex’s demanding, long-suffering wife.
And Tom Deckman, in the role of nervous head slave Hysterium, earns well-deserved laughs from the audience for his portrayal of a man who winces at the very notion of anything untoward.
Laughs, in fact, are what make Bay Street Theatre’s production of “Forum” so memorable. The musical’s talented cast, all of whom deliver deadpan performances, draw the audience in by addressing the crowd as much as they talk to each other. In this way, we aren’t just watching the show — we feel like part of the story.