When we’re talking comedy, very little entertains me more, nor makes me laugh harder, than the sight of a man dressed up as a woman trying to convince everyone that he is, in fact, a woman.
On my short list are Milton Berle and his stockpile of feminine iterations, Flip Wilson’s Geraldine, Dustin Hoffman’s “Tootsie,” Robin Williams as “Mrs. Doubtfire” and John Travolta in “Hairspray.” And, of course, there’s Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in “Some like it Hot.”
That’s why you will enjoy “Leading Ladies,” on stage at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina through Feb. 26. It’s a show filled with sniggers, tee-hees, and hoots and hollers. I’m betting that some of your favorite moments, like mine, will come when leads Ethan Saks and Jack Lafferty are not only dressed as women, but dealing with the complexities of trying to convince everyone that they are the women they say they are.
Leo (Saks) and Jack (Lafferty), a couple of Shakespearean actors who have enjoyed better times and are down to their last dollar, find themselves stranded near a Moose Lodge somewhere in Pennsylvania, where they had tried to perform the night before. To say it had not ended well would be an understatement. Accidentally, they learn of that an elderly lady, near death, is trying to find her only remaining relatives, Steve and Max, whom she has not seen since they were 6 years old, and whom, she believes, live abroad. She wants to make certain that they will come back home to share in the inheritance of $3 million.
It’s after Leo, with a huge amount of effort, successfully encourages Jack to join him in their show of a lifetime that the real fun starts. When they begin preparing for their arrival at the dying woman’s doorstep, the momentum moves into overdrive.
But there is a complication when the two find that Steve is a nickname for Stephanie and Max is a nickname for Maxine. Leo convinces Jack that they are actors ...” and an actor’s role in life is to lie ... to convince audiences that they are somebody they are not.”
The charm of the two — and the ridiculousness of their plan — is kicked up a notch when the two go through their suitcase and pull out the outfits they have been wearing during their “Shakespeare Sketches.” They pull out a Cleopatra costume, and a Titania tutu, folded tissue wings and a whole lot more.
When the two appear fully decked out in their Cleopatra and Titania suits — teetering in their high-heeled shoes, high above the others, their hairy legs peeking out from below their hemlines — they are greeted by Meg (Holly Ann Butler), who is surprised at their arrival and the size of the dear cousins she has only heard about and with whom she will share in the $3 million inheritance. She has always wanted to be an actress and immediately loves her “statuesque” cousins, their dramatic outfits, and their interest in her and in the theater.
The gracious, congeniality of the meeting of the three comes to a crashing end with the arrival of Meg’s boring, self-sentered, conniving fiance, Father Duncan (Christopher Patrick Mullen.) He is, at the least, a wet blanket, and at the most, a total sleaze ball. We can tell in moments that, first, all he wants is to be an inheritor of Florence’s millions, which he would designate to a foundation with his name on it ... and second, he really isn’t particularly interested in Meg.
We are happy to find that Florence has had a striking recovery, which baffles her country doctor (Mike Boland) and kind mystifies his son Butch (Tim Murray). You’ll also get to know Audrey (Jessica Myhr), a kind of beautiful but empty-headed friend of Florence’s family, a bit better.
The story becomes more complicated as the wedding is planned and rehearsed, along with a production of “12th Night,” to celebrate. Food and drinks are served, tangos are danced and there is bedroom sharing and splashed water. I told you it was complicated.
The author, Ken Ludwig, best known for “Lend Me a Tenor,” has written a wonderfully convoluted story.
The director, Russell Treyz, makes certain “Leading Ladies” is fresh and full of energy and laughs in this, his 26th production at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, takes this comedy, written in 2004, to soaring heights.
Artist, musician, teacher and writer Nancy K. Wellard focuses on portraying and promoting the cultural arts, first in Los Angeles and, for close to 30 years, in the Lowcountry. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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