If there’s nothing like a good laugh to get rid of the post-holiday blues, a look at the current South Bend Civic Theatre production of “Leading Ladies” is just what the doctor ordered.
From the prolific pen of American farce-master Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me A Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” et al), the tale of two down-and-out English Shakespearean actors who find their latest get-rich-quick scheme has little to do with the Bard of Avon, begins with a few snickers and ends with literally non-stop guffaws.
Yep. Guffaws. It’s that type of comedy.
No sly satirical quips here. Instead, broad obvious puns, a good deal of slapstick and a dive into the basic laugh-getter of all farces: Guys in drag and gals who can’t recognize 5 o’clock shadow when they’re staring it in the face — lierally!
Bill Svelmoe and Zach Gassman play Leo Clark and Jack Gable (get it??), two actors reduced to performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in Pennsylvania. On the train in search of their next gig, they read an article detailing an elderly widow’s dying search for two long-lost relatives, Steve and Max, who she hasn’t seen since infancy.
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention and impersonating the now-adult relatives seems an easy answer. Only one catch: nephews Steve and Max are nieces Stephanie and Maxine. With the aid of theatrical garb, the guys become girls and the con is on.
Anyone who thinks there will be smooth sailing from wig on to wig off obviously has never seen a farce —especially a Ludwig farce! Offering stumbling blocks are Florence (Martha Branson-Banks), the ailing senior who gets a new lease on life; another niece Meg (Christy Burgess), a major fan of the Bard; her too-stuffy-to-be-good fiancé Rev. Duncan (Matt Deitchley); Doc (Casey St. Aubin), who can’t wait to sign the death certificate; his son Butch (Jared Windhauser); and Audrey (Nora Ryan Taylor), a friend of Meg’s serving as Florence’s part-time aide.
Before the curtain falls on the proper (?) pairings, everything that can go wrong definitely does and watching the “girls” scramble to maintain their false identities while securing romantic attachments as themselves is familiar farce fodder and certainly one the audience enjoys.
This production moves along snappily under the direction of Leigh Taylor. She has assembled a very solid cast lead by the Ace of Farce, Svelmoe, who should be at the top of every director’s list for casting in this wacky genre. His final “on-again,off-again” is worth the price of admission. Gassman works hard — and successfully — to form the necessary doubles team and the sight of this tall gentleman in a mile-high wig and red patent stilettoes is hilarious, even without dialogue.
The on-again, off-again guys have two very sharp ladies with which to share the stage. Burgess and Taylor hold their own in every situation, with special applause for the latter who does it all — on roller skates.
Deitchley’s Snively Whiplash-like characterization seems a bit much at first but explodes perfectly as the denoument approaches. Branson-Banks is the perfect grandma-who-won’t-die. St. Aubin may be the last physician who makes house calls but really too young for the role. Windhauser lives up to his character’s name.
Set designer David Chudzynski’s scenic triptych (RR car right, two-story home center, Moose Lodge left) works well as the action shifts easily from one locale to another. The furnishings, however, are spare and rather worn for a wealthy home. On opening night, the area rug slipped its tape, a possible problem solved at least temporarily by a quick thinking actor. Any minor glitches were forgotten in Ludwig’s signature Mega-Mix, when the cast, no doubt already winded from its fast-paced 2 ½ hour romp, revisited the entire scenario — in case anyone had forgotten!
NOTE: Remember that ALL shows on the SBCT 2014 season begin at 7:30 pm. with matinees at 2 p.m. One half hour earlier than in previous years. Don’t get caught with your stub down!!
LEADING LADIES plays at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. through Feb. 2 in the Wilson Mainstage Theatre at 403 N. Main St., South Bend. For reservations, call 234-1112 or visit www.sbct.org