Venice Theatre’s Leading Ladies carries on the rich tradition of theatrical cross-dressing.
By Kay Kipling
Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies is probably a fairly smart choice for a community theater like Venice Theatre. It almost instantly feels very familiar, in a comfortable sort of way—old-fashioned, perhaps, with no surprises to startle the audience. In other words, you know exactly what you’re getting here.
And that is a farce, complete with the time-honored tradition of cross-dressing men, that throws together elements of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the venerable Charley’s Aunt and a few other recognizable literary/stage antecedents. Here’s the story: Two down-on-their-luck Shakespearean actors, Leo (Matt Erickson) and Jack (Eric Schneider), get wind of a dying woman looking for two long-missing heirs (actually, they get the full lowdown when a young blond bombshell literally—and coincidentally—skates into their train compartment bursting with news). Leo, the more aggressive and risk-taking of the two, decides they can easily fake their way into the inheritance, but it gets more complicated when they find out that the heirs-to-be are not really Max and Steve, but Maxine and Stephanie. Cue the long dresses and high heels to come out of the battered stage suitcase.
Eric Schneider and Matt Erickson do double duty in Venice Theatre’s Leading Ladies.
It’s obvious from the first that these two could never really fool anyone into believing they’re women, not even the local yokels of 1950s York, Pa., which is where the dying woman (Lynn Buhle, in a pleasingly crusty performance) lives with her theater-crazy niece, Meg (Heather O’Dea, a nice presence here). Meg in turn is engaged to a stuffed-shirt minister (Paul Mullen), who instantly suspects the “nieces” are up to something and tries to dig up the truth amid escalating craziness.
Anyone over the age of five knows just where all this is going to end up, but there are some good Ludwig comic lines in the mix (along with a few groaners), and the cast certainly performs with lots of energy, running around the visually appealing set designed by David Lynn-Jones (complete with grand staircase, grandfather clock and lots of doors). Director Dan Higgs keeps it all moving along briskly enough—a good thing, since it’s the kind of nonsense that could easily wear out its welcome. Frequent VT stalwart Matt Erickson often dominates the stage as Leo, but he’s well-paired with Schneider as his long-suffering pal. And Alexis Janssen as that roller skater is a fortuitous first-timer for the theater.
Leading Ladies continues through April 19 on the VT mainstage; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.