Audiences love a farce. Ken Ludwig is known for them — his “Moon Over Buffalo” and “Lend Me a Tenor” are two comedies well-known to theatergoers. If a theater wants to guarantee a decent turnout (and what theater doesn’t, in this market), they choose a money maker. And “Leading Ladies,” another of Ludwig’s offerings, hits all the notes of classic farce.
Leo (Conrad Browne Lörcher) and Jack (Brian Avery) are two Shakespearean actors so hard up for venues that they’re forced to perform at (unappreciative) small-town Moose lodges. When they find out that a local woman is about to pass away and leave her fortune to her two long-lost British nephews, they decide this is their chance to finally make enough money to be comfortable. But the classic farcical twist: the nephews — Max and Steve — are actually nieces, Maxine and Stephanie. Does this stop our intrepid actors? If you answered “yes” to this question, you obviously haven’t seen a farce recently.
Both Lörcher and Avery perform their roles well, both as Leo and Jack and Maxine and Stephanie. Most of the comedy comes from them doing their best not to be found out, and these scenes had the audience in hysterics. As their romantic foils, both Amanda Martini-Hughes (as Meg, the person who stands to inherit the money if Max and Steve’s chicanery is discovered) and Allison McArdle (as Audrey, the roller-skating waitress/aspiring college student) were good in their roles; there was clear chemistry between the leads. Unfortunately, that chemistry was absent between Martini-Hughes and Matthew Crowley, who played her fiancé, Duncan (because what’s a farce without a romantic triangle?) — it was utterly impossible to understand why she would have gotten engaged to him, even when it was there in the exposition.
The biggest problem with the show was — well, the show itself. At a little over two hours and 15 minutes, it was much too long for a comedy and it dragged. There were scenes that could have been cut in half and still had the same impact. The actors did a good job with them — but they shouldn’t have been that long to begin with. The constant antics bordered on the silly and the characters weren’t fleshed out enough for the audience to emotionally invest in anyone. There was nothing that made you think. The cross-dressing (and, of course, the homophobia involved when a man would fall for, or attempt to seduce, one of the “women”) seemed dated. This was explained by having the show set in 1958, but do we really need, in this social climate, to revisit these old tropes? And the show itself is overdone — this is the third production of “Leading Ladies” in the past five years in the immediate area. There are plenty of farces to choose from — one might argue far too many. It seems unfortunate theaters keep revisiting shows done locally in the not-too-distant past.
However, for what it is, it’s a solid production and it’s acted well. Kevin Miller’s set and Linda Bertrand’s costumes are beautiful. If it’s escapist comedy you’re looking for, a show that won’t make you think much but will help you get away from it all for a few hours — this is a safe bet.