BWW Review: LEADING LADIES at Keystone Theatrics
"Actors - they lie for a living! That's their profession," announces the priggish Reverend Duncan Wooley in Ken Ludwig's Pennsylvania-based comedy farce Leading Ladies. The actors in Keystone Theatrics at the Allenberry Resort clearly enjoyed playing that joke to the hilt in the play's two-week run, which ended Sunday.
Directed by Suzanne Delle, Leading Ladies tells the story of two washed-up British Shakespearean actors touring moose lodges in rural Pennsylvania before coming up with a wacky scheme to pose as the long-lost relatives of a cranky, rich old lady named Florence Snider who is expected to die at any moment but "lingers, out of spite," as one character states. Florence is under the care of the incompetent Doc Myers, who fervently wishes his son Butch would marry Florence's soon-to-be-rich niece Meg instead of the lively, precocious - but poor - Audrey, a waitress on roller skates. The starstruck, theater-loving Meg's engagement to the afore-mentioned (and theater hating) Duncan Wooley is the central problem of the play.
Nothing a little cross-dressing trickery won't take care of, of course. The two Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark and Jack Gable (get it? Clark Gable?) hatch a plot to dress up as women and impersonate the old lady's two long-lost nephews - who turn out to be nieces, hence the cross-dressing - and the play is off to the races.
Some of the humor in the play treads timeworn ground (men dressed as women groping for hugs, etc.), and the structure of the script seems a bit uneven, with a slow start to the story and some sluggish sections in Act I. Act II is where it picks up steam, and in Keystone Theatrics' production, that is clearly visible in the energy levels of the performers and in the overall pace of the show.
Director Delle gives us a lavish set featuring the widow Snider's upscale home - a curving staircase, elegant wallpaper, and French doors are among the tasteful features that suggest her great wealth. The casting of Adam Murray as Leo and Brandon Rubinic as Jack, with the great variation in their heights and sizes, adds a comic dimension to the show. Oddly, however, each character seems to shine most when onstage without the other, as the foibles and personalities of each emerge more clearly against the foils of the other characters. Murray exhibits true Shakespearean-sized acting gravitas and a real tenderness in his feelings for Meg, while Rubinic's sometimes spotty British accent is easy to overlook in his funniest drag moments.
Act II also includes some fun-to-watch dancing. Dixie Smith as Florence Snider is a show stealer in her flamenco-inspired tango with Duncan, played with just the right touch of stuffy uptightness by Glenn Muir. A waltz scene between Leo and Meg, endearingly performed by Gretchen Ray, is well done, as is the energetic tango dancing of Audrey (Marianna Rylee Fernbaugh). Audrey, Doc Myers, and Butch - the latter two played by James Hoffman and Christian Slyder - are hilarious in their Shakespearean costumes (including a highly noticeable codpiece in the case of Doc Myers), as they cheerfully bungle their parts.
The play borrows much of its plot devices (cross-dressing, mistaken identity, undelivered messages, long-lost relatives, etc.) from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, and concludes with a "rollicking" (to borrow a word from the play) rendition of that play in summary. So much so that it might make the audience rather wish they'd refreshed their memory of Shakespeare's play before sitting down to watch this one, as it might have brought out even more laughs in a farce that isn't as quick-paced as some of Ludwig's other works, such as Moon Over Buffalo and Lend Me a Tenor.
Leading Ladies closed at Keystone Theatrics on March 1, but their Family Series has Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat coming up this month, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat opening on April 24. For more information, go to keystonetheatrics.com.