Not with a whimper

The Brothers Menaechmus

By Plautus
Adapted and directed by Joseph Furnari
Westside Repertory Theatre
252 West 81st St. Manhattan (874-7290)
Non-union production (closes March 21)
Review by Julie Halpern

Plautus's comedy of mistaken identity, The Menaechmi, has entertained theatregoers throughout the centuries in a variety of incarnations, including Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, Rodgers and Hart's The Boys From Syracuse, and Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Joseph Furnari's recent adaptation welcomed Plautus's Menaechmus Brothers into the millennium in the intimate environment of West Side Rep.

The two Menaechmus brothers were separated in infancy back home in Syracuse and are unwittingly reunited as adults with predictably hilarious results. Like a favorite old sitcom, which we have seen a dozen times but laugh at all the same things time after time, the twins' exploits are a permanent fixture in the fabric of the theatre.

Furnari employs an interesting blend of dramatic elements from Plautus's time (such as the use of multiple doors and windows), commedia dell' arte and 1930s Hollywood screwball comedy. The only thing amiss was breaking up the prologue among several of the actors who kept popping their heads out of windows like the characters on Laugh In.

Guy Bracca and Ledger Free (as Menaechmus/Epidamnus and Menaechmus/Syracuse, respectively) were handsome, foppish dandies, and marvelously adept physical comedians. Annette Previtti as Menaechmus/Epidamnus's frustrated wife was a glamorous spitfire, and Cara Worth played her rival, the courtesan Erotium, as a wide-eyed vamp in the best gold-digger tradition.

Talented Shawn Willett was miscast in the role of Peniculus, Menaechmus/Edidamnus's parasite. Despite his excellent performance, it was too much of a challenge to imagine the young, buff Willett as the slovenly parasite. Michael Healey was an adorable bundle of over-the-top energy as Menaechmus/Syracuse's high-strung slave Messinio.

Brad Aldous, Esther Jun, and Robert Serrell contributed to the ensemble merriment.

All the actors looked attractive in Fred C.L. Mann's costumes, and T. Paul Lowry's set made good use of the intimate space. Scott Davis's lights added texture and depth to the set and costumes without washing out the actors' faces. Cheerful circus music during the preshow and set changes gave the evening a festive air.

But despite the cheerful antics on stage, it is a sad time for West Side Rep. This will be the company's final production after almost 30 years, unless they are able to regroup. West Side Rep's demise is particularly poignant at this point in time, since there seems to be a real resurgence of audience interest in the classics, and a growing number of actors with the training and talent to do this work. West Side Rep. will be missed.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern