A funny thing happened on the way to Stratford. I was looking for the FAG ball bearings sign as I cruised along Ontario St into the heart of Canada’s most famous Shakespearean hamlet. I had just been assaulted by a giant billboard on the town’s outskirts that likened abortion to a baby holocaust and I was in the mood for a bit of subliminal wordplay. But I couldn’t find it. So if you’re looking for precision ball bearings, water pump shafts or strut assemblies, be sure to peruse a Google map before setting out. Straightforward FAG signs seem more difficult to locate nowadays, obscured by strip malls and the propaganda of right-to-lifers who can afford huge offensive advertisements for their self-righteous cause.
And what pray tell does any of this have to do with the current Stratford production of the hilarious Burt Shevelove/Larry Gelbart/Stephen Sondheim musical A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum? Well, the way I see it, Forum is all about the fabulously debauched times that were the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, and the times we live in are not so different. What with Brüno telling us how flamboyant and offensive the gay and straight world can be, and war being waged on whomever chooses to threaten our godless right to affordable fuel, what could be more appropriate than an afternoon of musical wordplay and sexy fagilicious guys and gals prancing across the stage?
Loosely based on the work of Roman playwright Titus Macchius Plautus, this musical is populated by “Panderers! Philanders! Cupidity! Timidity! Mistakes! Fakes! Rhymes! Mimes!” (as per the opening number “Comedy Tonight”) and sports bawdily delightful Vegas-style sets by John Arnone and costumes by Dana Osborne.
Mike Nadajewski as Hero displays a marvelous fey masculinity as he pursues the virgin Philia with the help of his faggified flamboyant slave, impeccably played by Shaw musical staple Bruce Dow. Stephen Ouimette as Hysterium minces about with great panache alongside a decidedly more macho Randy Hughson as Senex — both displaying great musical prowess that rounds out their Stratford ensemble status as first-rate character actors who consistently steal the show in parts both large and small.
And if you want straight looking gayish acting brawn there’s hunky muscle-bound Dan Chameroy as Miles Gloriosus mugging hysterically throughout, providing the production with a foppish stock character who mixes melodrama with powerful singing in a titillating and skilful manner.
The whole production is marked by a fabulous camp consciousness that director Des McAnuff has applied to the overall mise en scène. Chilina Kennedy’s Philia and a bevy of beautiful courtesans add exquisite and powerful feminine energy to the ensemble.
This is pure unabashed debauchery that you can hum along to. And if you’re looking for a new water pump shaft then pull out your Google map and find the FAG factory as you merrily mince out of town.