Bacchanalia at the Getty Villa
by Leticia Marie Sanchez
Roman party god Bacchus would look down fondly at the revelry taking place this fall at the Getty Villa Theater. Wine, women, and song abound. Director Matt Walker and his engaging Troubador Theater Company have adapted the work of Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, refreshing lines from 200 B.C. with contemporary, hilarious zingers. The age-old story involves a prodigal son, Philolaches, partying like a rock star while his unsuspecting father, Theopropiedes, travels abroad. Aptly entitled “The Haunted House Party,” the ambiance of the adaptation feels like a ninety-minute zany house party with characters rapping, breaking into dance routines, and even calling out late audience members. As Matt Walker declared to the audience, “there is no fourth wall.” The strength of this production lies in the talented cast, spontaneous ad libs, audience engagement, and the sassy verbal juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern.
One of the play’s highlights occurred at the beginning during the witty riffing between the indefatigable Matt Walker (Tranio) and the uber-talented Beth Kennedy (Grumio) as she fell (ever so gently) on the marble floor of the Getty Villa Theater. With her sense of comedic timing and powerful charisma, Kennedy also stole the show as Mr. Moneygrub, a Roman banker who would have fit right in with the Goodfellas. As an ensemble, the Troubadors mastered various dimensions of entertaining including singing (especially Karole Foreman as Scapha and Misty Cotton as Delphium) and impressions (Rick Batalla’s spot on interpretation of a modern political figure had the audience roaring). Michael Faulkner (Theopropides), in his dulcet ballad at the play’s end, elicited sympathy as the duped father of a party animal.
Another strength of the production involved the juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern, particularly in the dance routines. The Police’s “Roxanne” is transformed to “Philomatia, You Don’t Have to Put on the Red Dress Tonight.” Later, Gloria Gaynor’s “I will Survive” contains references to the Colosseum and the Acropolis. “We are Topical,” sang the Troubies and indeed, with fast-paced allusions to Uber, Lyft, the 2016 Presidential Election, the pop culture references made the play a delight.
One aspect of the play that felt unnecessary was the excessive bawdiness. No, we did not really need to get (several) glimpses of the Slave Boy’s nether regions. The play also hit us over the head with the sexual proclivities and positions of Phoenicium and Erotium (the talented Leah Sprecher and Suzanne Narbonne). PSA: This play is not for children. In that aspect, the house party felt a bit Greek, and by Greek, I mean like a Fraternity party. The production was strong and hilarious enough on its own merit and did not need to attempt to elicit extra laughs with ribald gags.
Plautus, whose work influenced Shakespeare and Molière wrote in verse. At the Haunted House Party, the Troubadors creatively use verse- weaving classical allusions into rap, 70’s songs, and contemporary songs- to keep their audience on their toes. Or at least, chuckling on their seat cushions.
Beth Kennedy as Grumio and Matt Walker as Tranio in The Troubies’ Haunted House Party at the Getty Villa. Photo by Craig Schwartz