To begin, Leading Ladies tries to wring laughs from men pretending to be women. That's pretty much where it ends, too. No, wait, one of the men also pretends to be deaf. Granted, these must be sure-fire laugh getters, they've been used so many times.
And so they can be, in the right hands. Ludwig tries hard. He starts with two down-on-their-luck British actors touring American small towns doing Scenes from Shakespeare. They come across a newspaper notice about a wealthy woman who is dying and leaving her fortune to a pair of English relatives. They decide to become those relatives. On the way, they come across a young woman acquainted with the family – what luck!
– who points out that, though the names of the English relatives in the newspaper sound like men, they actually are women.
One of the two actors also falls in love with the young woman.
Raiding their theatrical trunks, the penniless actors appear as women, rather odd women, at the wealthy woman's home, who seems to recover regularly and miraculously from the edge of the grave.
The other actor now falls in love with the rich woman's niece.
Hawthorne Players is the second local community theatre to tackle "Leading Ladies". But as I said, playing farce requires great skill. The skill level at most community theatres can vary widely. So it is with Leading Ladies at Hawthorne Players. No one, I'm happy to say, is bad.
The director, Colleen Heneghan, who also designed the workable sets, knows the importance of a snappy pace with rhythmic variations. She has included an odd and show-slowing extended surreal dance sequence in the second act, with some nice choreography by Debbie Clyne, and some foolishness during scene changes.
Luckily, she has two accomplished farceurs to play the two actors, Jeffrey Loyd as the one who cooks up the scam and Todd Micali as the one who reluctantly goes along with it. As the young woman who tips them off to the fortune, Jessica Gillard is their equal in comic exchanges. Kelsey Ruthman is sweet and understandably confused as the niece of the wealthy lady. Robert Doyle is on the right track as the minister who's engaged to the niece, though perhaps more interested in her fortune than in her. As the local bumbling doctor, John Robertson has somehow acquired a Southern drawl in York, Pennsylvania. Danny Grumich plays his son, disappointed in love. As played by Denise Chappell, the wealthy lady seems to come from another reality.
The cross-dressing gives costume designer Nancy Crouse and hair and wig designer Lori Renna opportunities for comedy in their creations. Tony Anselmo's lights work well, as do Tony and Dottie Bertolino's sound and Doris Lucy's props.
Now that we've had two productions of "Leading Ladies", perhaps we can give it a well-deserved rest.