What could be funnier than two over-the-hill Roman gladiators and mercenaries trying to make ends meet (literally and figuratively) as they encounter sex-hungry matrons, middlebrow food orgies, incontinent hosts, and forced impotence cures? Ouch!
How about the same two guys snarling jealously over a scrawny slave boy in pink body paint and makeup? It's all there in Mark-Brian Sonna's premiere of his stage adaptation of Satyricon, a bawdy first century Roman novel by Gaius Petronius, set in AD 62, now playing at MBS Productions in the Stone Cottage at Addison Theatre Centre.
The most fun in this two-hour comedy is in the why-not attitude and silly gawkiness of Philip Gage, in the role of the retired gladiator Encolpius, who also has the job of narrating the lengthy lead-ins to the various episodes. His goofy boyishness makes the super raunchy stuff in the show easier to swallow. Ahem.
Sure, Encolpius takes money for sex with men, women and boys. He also fights with his gladiator buddy Ascyltos (Dillon M. Ford), and sells the body of his cowering young slave Giton (Josh Lofty) for a meal, a hotel room or whatever. At a wine and food orgy, the literally pooped out host suggests poor Giton as "a possible dessert."
Still, this adventurous Roman road warrior is always so willing to roll over or crawl on top of virtually anybody that asks him that I started liking his dumb-ass can-do spirit. He clearly prefers boys, but when challenged he declares he can still take on a woman, although it's been awhile. "It's like riding a horse," he explains.
When Encolpius ends up onboard a ship with the long-winded poet Eumolpus (Dylan Peck), he hilariously hides from an old enemy on-board disguised as a slave. But he and Giton manage to survive when a shipwreck lands them in the lap of a beautiful rich woman named Chrysis (Emily Murphy) who determines she must have sex with Encolpius, come hell, high water or his repeated failure to get it on.
In the play's funniest scene, Chrysis calls in the sorceress hag Oenothea (Megan Duelm) who instructs her patient to "sit on the bed and spread your legs" for a close-up examination of his parts. After administering everything from ointments to leather dildos and personally testing his equipment, the witch declares him ready to go. Our gung-ho gladiator manages to deliver the goods to the grateful lady who pays him off royally.
Lots more happens in the show, and a number of clever lines perk the dialogue. I liked the gossipy dinner guest despairing that "nobody believes in Jove anymore." But most of the jokes are variations on a pretty narrow theme, and would probably pack more of a wallop if condensed into a shorter playtime.
The youthful cast members, in their funny, garishly colored togas designed by Alejandro de la Costa, shoulder up to the task at hand. But there's just too much talk to get through, and always the same simulated action on the one big prop─the mattress at stage center. It is with some relief on the part of all that a worn-out Encolpius and his spent boy-toy finally escape the busy demands of this ultra-anal Roman society and walk away into the sunset.