If you’re ready to shed your cares and laugh out loud at a silly, rollicking play, it may be time to see “Leading Ladies” at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre.
The show was written by Ken Ludwig, who wrote “Lend Me a Tenor,” so anyone who has seen that comedy might know what craziness to expect. But “Leading Ladies” is even funnier, thanks to the comic skills of director Leticia Velez and her talented cast.
The story sounds something like “Some Like It Hot,” where two guys don drag and impersonate women until they fall in love with real women. “Leading Ladies” has been described as a hybrid of that show and “Twelfth Night,” but this production is more Monty Python than Shakespeare.
Leo Clark and Jack Gable (get it? Clark and Gable) are Shakespearean actors whose audience at the Moose Lodge in Shrewsberry, Pa., bails out on them and heads for the buffet.
Bereft, they notice a story in the local paper about a wealthy woman who is dying and is looking for two long-lost heirs, Max and Steve. Leo and Jack decide to pose as the heirs, but a local girl (on roller skates and wearing a tutu) tells them that what sounded like lost nephews are actually nieces, Maxine and Stephanie.
Up until then, the play is pretty ho-hum, but once the men turn into women, the real comedy begins. They are both big men. Leo, played by Stuart Wegner, is tall and lanky with a face that is fine on a man, but would be unfortunate on a woman. Jack, played by Travis Nefores, is a strapping, husky, athletic looking fellow.
Neither of them could really pass as a woman, especially with a hint of fiveo’clock shadow. The way they look in wigs, high heels and dresses is laughable to begin with, so at this point in the play the audience has to suspend disbelief and go with the comic flow.
Florence, the “dying” aunt, and her other niece, Megg, are delighted to meet their lost relatives. Megg is engaged to a humorless, straitlaced minister, the only one who suspects that the men are frauds.
The comedic skills of the actors are what make this silly scenario work. Wegner and Nefores have great comic timing, and the acting gets better and better as they begin to inhabit their female selves. Nefores is a crack-up as he gives his Stephanie character a weird body language that is a mix of male and female. Wenger actually plays both genders. When he discovers that Megg admires the real actor Leo Clark (himself), he alternates between being Maxine and Leo.
Kayla Peracca is excellent as Megg, who is filled with conflicting emotions as Leo falls in love with her — and she falls in love with Maxine.
John Geever remains stalwart as Duncan, the uptight reverend who wants Megg (and himself) to get all of her aunt’s money. Dottie Thompson is cute and funny as the feisty Aunt Florence, far from dead. Her bumbling doctor is played well by Tom O’Flaherty, and Charles Hayek is a kick as Butch, his dim son. Chelsea Shipp plays Audrey, Butch’s air-headed girlfriend, with charming naivete.
The dialogue is clever and witty, with some memorable quips that may come back to you on the way home.
The men’s costumes are an important comic element, from some overdone Shakespearean outfits to the imposters’ dresses and heels. Sharin Hamish is costume designer.
The two-story set, basically Florence’s home, is quite elegant and functional as characters run in and out of doors and go up and down stairs. David Linfield is set designer.
There is no redeeming social message to this play — it’s just a quintessential farce, but with better comic acting than most. The actors are obviously having fun, and it’s all about getting laughs—which they do.