Vista, CA---If you are interested in ‘brushing up your Shakespeare’, Ken Ludwig’s “Leading Ladies” probably isn’t the right place in which to be doing it even though his two protagonists, Leo Clark (Paul Morgavo) and Jack Gable (Eric Hellmers) are Shakespearean actors down on their luck who manage to spout a few lines from “Hamlet”, “Richard III” and some “Henry IV” while hamming it up at their last gig at the Moose Lodge in Shrewsbury, Penn. But Shakespeare, not so much learning experience as a prop.
The time is mid-fifties as witnessed by the music (“Mac The Knife”, “Why Do Fools Fa-all in Lu-uv?” “Sisters”, “4 Leaf Clover” and many more), complements of sound designer Chris Luessmann. And the situations could be set anywhere in time.
The AVO Theatre in Vista is launching its 2013 winter season with this nonsensical farce, “Leading Ladies”, complete with double entendre, gender bending, mistaken identities, cross dressing, enough doors or entrances/exits (N. Dixon Fish) to allow for fast costume changes (Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd provide some pretty outlandish girlie costumes for the two male actors) and a few unexpected twists and turns but not enough to put this Ludwig farce in the same category as “Moon Over Buffalo” (brought back to life by funny woman Carol Burnett in 1995 also about a theatrical touring troupe doing “Cyrano de Bergerac” and “Private Lives” on the same bill) or “Lend Me A Tenor”, set in 1934 when the greatest tenor of the times, Tito Merelli is supposed to be arriving in Cleveland for a one night stand and what happens when another is mistaken for him.
“Leading Ladies” takes us on a journey with Leo and Jack. They are so broke and down on their luck with no future gigs, that they conjure up a plan to impersonate some long lost heirs of near death Florence, whose millions are about to be divided equally among her heirs if they can be located. After reading about this in an article in the local press and learning that Florence (a wonderful Dagmar Krause Fields) is either near death or dead, they decide to make a house call to her home, the one that she shares with her only other known living relative, her niece Meg (Kristin Woodburn).
Easy as a piece of cake decide Jack and Leo since the relatives have lived in England since very young and they are British. So accents are no problem. The one big problem, however is that Max and Steph are actually Maxine and Stephanie. Ooops! Now they have to dress like women. Well you can imagine what chaos is brought to Meg and Florence’s household when the two men arrive dressed in drag claiming to be Maxine and Stephanie. It doesn’t get much better for them when they both get to share a room with Meg. Now put that in your cauldron and stir it.
One thing leads to another while Meg’s priggish fiancé, the Reverend Duncan Wooley (Taylor Bassett) greedy to a fault (he doesn’t want to split the inheritance with anyone) grows suspicious about these two would be long lost nieces. And well he should be. Leo has the hots for Meg while Meg thinks she’s in love with her (Maxine) who is really Leo in disguise. Aha such is the “Comedy Of Errors”. And it goes on for two acts.
Director Christopher M. Williams does about as well as can be expected especially with the seasoned Morgavo and Hellmers who give it their all. They work way too hard to bring home the bacon and it often falls flat (at least at the performance I attended). Confession: Hellmer’s Jack’s Stephanie makes a better-looking woman and is more believable than Leo’s Maxine. But then again, that’s a personal preference.
Kristin Woodburn’s Meg is one of the more credible characters who seems to have an ear for Shakespeare, while Noelle Marion’s Audrey is a bit too much over the top. Audrey is another diversion and friend of the family who finds herself caught up in the mess with Jack/Stephanie. Jack falls secretly for Audrey, allowing her to leave her boyfriend Butch (a handsome Spencer Rodman) in the lurch and off the hook to date others.
Thom Vegh scores points for his sense of timing which is picture perfect and carries throughout making his scenes so more enjoyable to watch without the feeling of urgency noticed in so many of the others. Vegh is the family doctor, Doc Meyers, who keeps pronouncing Florence dead as she merely nods off giving the good doctor a bad reputation. His one scene in Act II in which he tries to seduce Stephanie is just about the funniest of the entire production. More of those types of physical comedy would have added some zip to the back and fourth energy zapping and time consuming costume changes that almost devolve into slapstick.
Technical support from Luessmann, Fish and lighting designer Paul A. Canaletti, JR. give the overall look an appealing impression.
Would that the script were better.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Feb 3rd
Organization: Moonlight Stage Productions
Production Type: Farce
Where: 303 Main street, Vista, CA92084
Ticket Prices: $22.00-$40.00
Venue: AVO Playhouse