A funny thing happened on way to Getty Villa

"Tug of War" is a modern version of the Roman comedy "Rudens," by Plautus, now performing at the Getty Villa in Malibu. Pictured clockwise from lower left: Peter Van Norden (Scupus), Jill C. Klein (Charmides), Bob Beuth (Vinita), Cortney Wright (Liploca), Antoine Reynaldo Diel (Lupus del Mar), Albert Meijer (Bigbuxo), and Steve Totland (Deltoidus). Photo by Craig Schwartz, (c) 2007 J. Paul Getty Trust

Plautus, the Roman playwright, would probably be mightily pleased if he could see what has been done, roughly, with his comedy of circa 200 B.C. Updated somewhat, and broadened considerably, his “Rudens” has been metamorphosed into “Tug of War” and is being presented in the outdoor theater of the Getty Villa in Malibu.

There are gags and schticks, music and songs and everyone has a great time. Performed on a wooden platform, the actors are visible at all times, doing whatever is required to generate laughs. Wonderful interplay takes place between the performers and the audience, with one lucky onlooker receiving a bag of Getty cookies from an actor.

The plot is rather convoluted, said to be knitted together from two plays, but it is easy to follow as everything is explained as the action progresses. There are the slave girls and the panderer, the rich macho master and the forlorn father looking for his daughter. A storm wreaks havoc and leaves the participants on a desolate beach with “raggedy rocks.”

Each of the characters has a chance to sing and they are all terrific. Meryl Friedman is undoubtedly a marvel, responsible for the inventive directing, choreography, music and lyrics. Using a translation by Amy Richlin, a professor of classics at UCLA, she has carefully researched the works of Plautus and evoked the humor, the bawdiness and especially the dopiness.

The actors work beautifully as an ensemble and it is impossible to name a standout. Because they are given “Roman” names like Bigbuxo and Battleaxia, it is difficult to say who plays who. However, applause must sound out for the incredible cast consisting of Curtis C., Peter Van Norden, Albert Meijer, Steve Totland, Antoine Reynaldo Diel, Jill C. Klein, Cortney Wright and Bob Beuth.

The action is accompanied by a delightful trio consisting of Armand Arnazzi on guitar, Gee Rabe, accordion, and Brian Walsh, clarinet. Bruno Coon is the musical director. The raggedy, clownish costumes are the work of Ellen McCartney.

Each summer, the Getty Villa presents a classical drama in the Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theater. Last year it was “Phaedra” and next year it will be “Agamemnon” by Aeschylus.

“Tug of War” plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 29. Tickets are $35 and can be obtained, if available, by calling 310. 440.7300. The stone seats come with cushions, providing a modern touch, but there are no backs, evocative of the rigors of the past.

Think of the cool Los Angeles evenings and dress accordingly. And come prepared to laugh.