Ben Hur: An Epic Comedy

Hur-ry to get your tickets!

You don’t want to miss this zany comedy.

The Yorkshire Playhouse is known for quality comedy, but the upcoming production of Ben Hur is something out of the ordinary--an historical romp that’s equal parts clever dialogue and silly slapstick. From ridiculous wigs and costumes, to even more ridiculous accents and action, Ben Hur is a show that will keep you laughing.

IMG_2969.JPG

If you’ve seen the film version (I haven’t) or the SCTV version (it’s hilarious) then you know the story: young Jewish prince Judah Ben Hur incurs the wrath of his childhood friend, Messala, who has risen to prominence in the Roman military. Judah’s girlfriend, mother, and sister are sent to prison and Judah is sold into slavery. He spends years seeking vengeance and the rescue of his loved ones, while having a few chance encounters with Jesus Christ. Sounds like a laugh a minute, right?

In the playhouse’s version, Ben Hur is a play within a play--the actors in the show are actors in a self-important and comically bad theatre troupe. In addition to the drama they are presenting, the actors are also dealing with their own dramas--from couch casting to disputes about dangerous (and possibly illegal) props, a missing cast member and a pompous writer-director.

IMG_3389.JPG

The story of Ben Hur has dozens of characters, but this enterprising ensemble makes do with just four players--swapping out wigs, costumes and accents to portray a variety of roles. (My favorite is Judah’s elderly mother, who sports a full gray beard.)

If you’re one of those who sometimes has trouble staying awake at the theatre (like me), you’ll appreciate the fun audience participation scene with pirates and galley slaves, mimed actions and silly call and response lines.

The elevated language and wordy wit makes the show better suited to older audiences, but the goofy sight gags are enjoyable by theatre goers of all ages. There’s a hilarious chariot race, thrilling sea battle sequence, technicolor angelic being, inflatable camels--and more.

IMG_3693.JPG

The performances from Playhouse regulars Ryan Harrison, Sami Berry, and Caleb Clark are worth the price of admission alone. Add to that a terrific performance from newcomer Nathan Lacina, whose quiet charisma balances the often over the top silliness of the other cast members, and you’ll find an impressive ensemble cast with great chemistry.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. From the pre-show selection to the frequent underscoring of the action in the show, half of the comedy comes in musical allusions to other classics, from Indiana Jones to Star Wars.

Ben Hur is truly a very funny show, just the thing to scare away the last of your winter doldrums and welcome a new season of light and joy. Don’t miss it!