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After 2,200 Years Plautus Makes His Comeback

Ed Rampell: Every once in a great while I see a show full of so much inspired insanity and silliness that it makes me feel glad to be alive, if only to partake of such madcap merriment.
Haunted House Party

Michael Faulkner (Theopropides) and Matt Walker (Tranio/Director and Adaptor) Photo by Craig Schwartz


A funny thing happened on the way to the Villa: Every once in a great while I see a show full of so much inspired insanity and silliness that it makes me feel glad to be alive, if only to partake of such madcap merriment. Examples include the Broadway production of Spamalot and LA Opera’s mounting of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. The Troubadour Theater Company and Getty Museum’s Haunted House Party, A Roman Comedy is such a sheer delight that it joins the rarefied ranks of plays I’ve seen that filled me with such an overwhelming sense of the joy of life that after the proverbial curtain fell I felt like paraphrasing Hamlet: “I have of late, but wherefore I know why, lost all my misery…”

This laughfest is the Getty Villa’s annual outdoor theater production which, in keeping with the museum’s focus and forte, has ancient Greek and/or Roman roots and themes. Haunted House Party is the freewheeling Troubadour’s adaptation of Mostellaria - and no, this is not the cheese on your pizza but rather the Roman playwright Plautus’ 2nd century B.C. comedy classic. (BTW, the Romanesque romp is actually set in ancient Athens - not Rome.)

Haunted House Party

Photo by Craig Schwartz

Two millennia and two centuries on, like Norma Desmond, Titus Maccius Plautus of B.C. is ready for his close-up, C.B., on L.A. stages. In the A.D. era, versions of the comeback kid’s plays have been performed by Theatre Palisades and Los Angeles Theatre Center, respectively (if not necessarily “respectfully”) presenting A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum (which was likewise inspired by Mostellaria, as well as Plautus’ Pseudolus and Miles Gloriosus) and Pot of Gold (based on Plautus’ Aulularia).

Haunted House Party

Nicholas Cutro (Philolaches) and Joey Kean (Philematium) Photo by Craig Schwartz

Recounting Haunted House Party’s plot would be a total waste of time, because the story is just an excuse for the delirious Troubies to work their magical mayhem, unleashing a torrent of inventive vaudeville, Commedia Del Arte, slapstick, daffy parodies of pop songs (accompanied by a four-piece band playing live music), dance, ad libs (latecomers, thou hast been warned!), gay repartee, witty ripostes, and much more.

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The wizardry of the Troubies’ wordplay is worthy of a weird Wordsworth, with puns and bon mots such as: “Get your minds out of the aqueducts!” and “Apollo-care” (ancient Athenian health insurance - if you didn’t get it, you’re like the millions of uninsured Americans who still don’t get Obamacare). And lawdy, the language is bawdy, along with much of the action, so despite the sight gags galore, this mishmash full of prostitutes, transsexuals (or is it transvestites? the play doesn’t specify), and so on is probably not suitable for the tykes.

The Troubies’ sound designer is Robert Arturo Ramirez, while its sound effects maestros, Tyler King, Andy Lopez and James Bane, are to the slide whistle what Edward Snowden is to whistleblowers. Costume designer Sharon McGunigle’s Athenian apparel is noteworthy and especially welcome, as unlike many contemporary adaptations from Greek or Roman sources, there are enough togas for an Animal House caliber toga party. Christopher Scott Murillo’s fluid scenic design also works well - and BTW kiddies, don’t leave the amphitheater until the proverbial “end credits” have completely, shall we say, rolled. The Troubies’ troupe is too large to single every performer out, but among the colorful cast’s standouts is Karole Foreman, the play’s sole African American thesp, who, as Scapha, pointedly, playfully points out: “Guess who gets to play the maid?” Foreman is a versatile actress/singer/hoofer with an effervescent appeal and presence. As the long-tressed son Philolaches, Nicholas Cutro looks and acts like a cross between Prince Valiant, Dennis Hopper and Harpo Marx as he woos Joey Keane’s cross dressing (or transgender?) Philematium, the filly Philolaches dropped many borrowed drachmas on to purchase from a brothel.

Beth Kennedy does double duty as Grumio, a slave, and in a scene stealing bit, as Mr. Moneygrub - while Jesus said, “the poor shall always be with us,” this number reminds us that so have greedy capitalists (at least until the former get rid of the latter bloodsuckers). Matt Walker is delightful as the slave Tranio, and as Party’s adapter and director, has fun calling penalty on plays made by actors flubbing their lines, like referees making calls at football games.

Haunted House Party

Matt Walker (Tranio/Director and Adaptor), Rick Batalla (Slave-Boy/Simo), Beth Kennedy (Grumio/Mr. Moneygrub/Producer), Misty Cotton (Delphium), Suzanne Jolie Narbonne (Erotium), and Nicholas Cutro (Philolaches)

The irrepressible Troubies have previously wrought their hilarious takes - or, perhaps, one should say double takes - on classics with clever titles like Fleetwood MacBeth and Hamlet the Artist Formerly Known as Prince of Denmark. I previously witnessed ABBAmemnon, which did not fulfill the promise of its premise. But Haunted House Party definitely does and pays off in a big way. As said, it made me glad to be alive, if only to enjoy such sheer demented daffy delirious daffiness.

If you love yourself and/or a fellow theatergoer, treat yourself to this onstage pandemonium which modern ticket buyers can behold beneath the stars like ancient auds - in an amphitheater. Something for everyone: Commedia Del Arte tonight! Let us applaud Plautus and render a standing ovation to his latter day interpreters, the Troubies, whose farcical frolic is worth a price above rubies. For lovers of laughter, gaiety and comedy, all roads lead to Malibu’s Getty Villa.

Ed Rampell

The Getty Museum and Troubadour Theater Company’s Haunted House Party, A Roman Comedy plays through Oct. 1 on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. at the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Outdoor Classical Theater at the Getty Villa, 17985 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. For more info: (310) 440-7300;

Ed Rampell