Friday, February 24, 2017

Millbrook: "Leading Ladies"

Ken Ludwig's farces have skewered actors [Moon Over Buffalo] and opera singers [Lend Me a Tenor], and he comes up trumps again with Leading Ladies as directed by A. John Collier this season for the Millbrook Community Players.

Here are two out-of-work English Shakespearean actors out of place in York, Pennsylvania; when they read a newspaper account of Florence [Michon R. Givens], a wealthy and sick old woman who is searching for her long-lost relatives to leave her fortune to; they plan to impersonate them and reap the rewards when the old lady dies. When Leo [Matthew Givens] and Jack [Alan Kouns] learn that the old woman's nephews Max and Steve are actually Maxine and Stephanie, they resolve to continue with their drag.

Things get complicated when Leo/Maxine falls for Florence's niece Margaret [Rae Ann Collier], and Jack/Stephanie falls for Florence's part-time aide Audrey [Meghan Yapana Ducote]. Of course, they can't reveal their true feelings. But Margaret loves Shakespeare, so Leo/Maxine intervenes with a plan to perform Shakespeare's Twelfth Night by getting Leo to act opposite Margaret in order to get closer to her. It hardly matters to him that Margaret is engaged to Rev. Duncan Wooley [Steve Phillips] who happens to be after Florence's millions as well. -- Needless to say, there are a lot of quick costume changes as the two actors must switch characters in the blink of an eye in order to continue their pretense. -- And the family doctor, Doc Meyers [Tim Griggs] attempts to foist his son Butch [Tanner Parrish] on Margaret in order to get some of Florence's inheritance for himself.

The set up has so many possibilities that Collier's ensemble cast deliver on very well. The energy they bring keeps the action moving while the jokes come hard and fast. It is hard to keep up with the almost constant barrage of familiar quotes from Shakespeare, both in and out of the context of Ludwig's farce. Additionally, the plot devices are taken straight from the Bard [and the long history of theatre]: cross dressing, disguise, deception, manipulative characters, witty dialogue, clowns, etc.

Ms. Givens portrays Florence with an archness and commanding voice that belies her character's age and illness, and stops the show with a presence that demands to be obeyed. Mr. Griggs and Mr. Parrish are excellent foils to the main characters. Mr. Phillips is significantly oily as the greedy minister who obsesses on controlling Margaret [and getting Florence's money]; sometimes, it is good to play the bad guy: the role is a juicy one.

Ms. Ducote is absolutely charming and vivacious as the air-headed Audrey. She lights up the stage every time she appears, and is generous in sharing the stage with her fellow actors. Well done.

Ms. Collier has the double charge of being constant to her fiance Rev. Wooley while simultaneously falling for Leo/Maxine; her confusion and ultimate choice to do the right thing and follow her heart and dreams gets deserved applause.

But the honors in this production go to Mr. Givens and Mr. Kouns. They are a terrific double-act reminiscent of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot. -- While they sometimes go over-the-top in "campy" postures and voices, they work so well together, it makes for a delightful episode every time they are alone together on stage.

The scant opening night audience were treated to a raucous farce that could be even better with a packed house's laughter.