Michele Ragusa plays Senex in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
Imagine my surprise when I received a call from my agent, this past July, to inform me that I was being offered the role of Senex (the dirty old man) in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. As bizarre as this was to me, the real impact hit when I realized for the first time in my 30 year career, I will have played both sides of a couple. You see, two years ago I had the privilege of playing Domina. Now my brain began to wrap around the idea of creating a believable man. I knew, of course, that I’d have assistance from the costume and hair departments, but where to start from an acting standpoint?
The first day of rehearsal it became crystal clear that the majority of our cast was asked to challenge themselves to portray the opposite gender. Rehearsals became a joyous playground; and, as is usually the case, trusting the material would be paramount. Sondheim is a master and his brilliance is on full display in the lyrics. I also was fortunate as the comedic style at play here – Vaudeville – is a large part of my wheelhouse. I did have one concern – would the audiences accept typical, male, sexist, vaudeville patter coming out of a woman’s mouth?
We’ve been performing for six weeks and I’m now able to step back, reflect on my time as Domina, and place it side by side with my experience as Senex. The concept for Domina was that she was frightening in her sexuality/passion. I felt quite empowered in my costume and truly enjoyed portraying that kind of strength and energy. With Senex, I find a different kind of empowerment: given his place in Roman Society, there is an innate assuredness and that you’re in control and one to be listened and catered to (and the costume is much more comfortable!).
In closing, I am happy to report that our houses have been quite game to be taken on our gender-bending jaunt, and I can now say, with assuredness, that my “actors toolbelt” is nearing completion. Thank you Gulfshore Playhouse!!