All roads lead to Rome for Players’ Club

Kirsten Stewart, Dann Wilhelm and Krystal Hadlow rehearse a scene in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. The production runs Feb. 12-March 1 at the Coast Capital Playhouse. - Gord Goble photo
Kirsten Stewart, Dann Wilhelm and Krystal Hadlow rehearse a scene in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum. The production runs Feb. 12-March 1 at the Coast Capital Playhouse.
— image credit: Gord Goble photo

It’s official – Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Ancient Rome – or at least White Rock Players’ Club’s version of a middle-class corner of it – has taken barely three weeks to materialize on the stage of the Coast Capital Playhouse.

For that – no small miracle in itself – credit the volunteer work of set designer Andrea Olund and ace builders Colin Fotherby and Kevin Wilmott, recently augmented by a crew of scenic painters, including well-known White Rock artist Elizabeth Hollick.

Together with properties mistress Naomi Mitchell and costume designer Pat McClean, they’re creating a credible environment for a farcical musical – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (Feb. 12 - March 1) – that, in theory at least, takes place in the Rome of 200 B.C.

Inspired by the comedies of Roman playwright Plautus, Stephen Sondheim, Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart created a bawdy romp that became a smash hit in the early ’60s and which has, through frequent revival, endured to become a musical-theatre classic.

The White Rock Players’ Club version is also one of its biggest challenges of recent seasons – the first traditional plot musical for the club in years, calling for a cast of 18 players in major and minor roles.

Directed by club artistic director Ryan Mooney, Forum features comedian/technology expert Steve Dotto as wily household slave Pseudolous, constantly scheming to make enough money to buy his freedom from his master, henpecked Senator Sennex (Raymond Hatton).

Ray Van Ieperen plays the nervous, highly-strung Hysterium, a fellow slave instructed to curb Pseudolus’s conniving by imperious mistress of the house Domina (Helen Volkow).

Complicating Hysterium’s job are a situation that Pseudolous sees as his main chance – their owners’  clueless son, Hero (Dan Wilhelm), has fallen desperately in love with the virgin Philia (Rebekah MacEwen), even though she’s promised as bride to pompous Roman general Miles Gloriosus (Matt Loop), and awaiting collection in the nearby house of procurer Marcus Lycus (Pat McDermott).

Add in a complement of lecherous centurions and comely courtesans, and Erronius – an elderly and confused neighbour (Gordon Mantle, in a welcome return to the boards after many years stage managing) in search of his children – and there’s plenty of scope in Forum for ribald puns, mistaken identities and misdirected assignations.

And door-slamming, of course, courtesy of the double-doors installed on each of three adjacent houses between typical street archways in Olund’s design.

“I’ve tried to get as many ancient Roman architectural ideas in there as possible,” Olund said. “It’s not really like a box set, because there are also gardens and walls beyond.”

Most of the sketches and plans for Forum were worked out over the Christmas season in consultation with the ever-busy Mooney, who always seems to have three shows on the go – between White Rock and his own Fighting Chance Productions – at the same time.

“When I was fine-tuning the drawings, I’d take pictures of them on my phone and send them to him, because I never knew where he’d be next,” she said.

“It’s an elaborate set,” Mooney said. “All the doors are double swinging doors – that’s really fun, and we’ve worked them into the staging, because Andrea and the team were able to get it together so so quickly.”

“The big challenge has been the heights,” said Olund, who has accumulated 13 or 14 credits  – she’s lost count – over three years of WRPC and other productions at Coast Capital Playhouse (among her work have been several pantos and the sets for Mooney’s Lend Me A Tenor and Fools).

“In this show they’re all two-storey buildings, one with a full walk-out balcony – which means a lot of backstage ladders for actors and actresses,” she said.

The ease of construction has had a lot to do with Fotherby and Wilmott, Olund and Mooney said.

Both experienced builders willing to volunteer their time for the WRPC, they’ve been able to accomplish a lot in tandem shifts around the clock, often after evening rehearsals are over.

“Kevin and Colin make a good team,” noted Mitchell, who is also assistant stage manager for Dorum. “Without even talking to each other, they get things done – they know what they’re doing.”

Mitchell currently has one foot in Ancient Rome and one in 1930s Hollywood – she’s also researching props for the club’s next show, Moonlight and Magnolias, a comedy about the writing of the screenplay for Gone With The Wind.

That show will be the 28th WRPC production for the former teacher, she said.

“I never used to think props were very important – when I first came into the club I was supposed to be looking after the kids backstage for a panto. Then I was asked to find a fish to put on stage for something, and that was that.”

Mitchell said she has learned to love the mixture of research and ingenuity that goes into finding or creating properties.

“It fulfills my creative urge, and I love organizing things,” she said.

“The first thing I asked Ryan about this show was how authentic do you want the props?”

While nothing she has had to find for this show is particularly spectacular, it’s posed interesting research questions, she said.

“Like what would men’s purses look like? Would they be leather pouches, and would they be different for a wealthy man and a poor man? There’s also a book of potions – what would a book of that time look like? I found out that they were actually made out of pieces of wood and vellum.”

One of the potions – an aphrodisiac important to the plot – calls for the collection of mare’s sweat, which led to research into the right kind of kind of vial to evoke the era, she added.

“You realize that you’re creating an illusion, and even the smallest thing can help that,” she said.

Mooney said that, more than hewing to historic authenticity, elements of a show like ‘Forum’ have to mesh with the overall production concept.

“Even if you’re creating a world of absurdity, what you do has to fit in with that,” he said.

“There has to be a level of believability.”

Tickets ($18, $16 students, seniors and Coast Capital Savings members) are available from 604-536-7535 or www.whiterockplayers.ca

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