Reviewed by Tony Annicone
“Leading Ladies” by Ken Ludwig takes place one month in the spring of 1958 in York, Pennsylvania. Written by the author of “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo”, this hilarious comedy is Rhode Island College Theatre Department’s current show. In this play two English Shakespearean actors, Jack and Leo, find themselves so down on their luck that they are performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit in the Shrewsbury, PA. When they hear that Florence, an old lady in York, PA is about to die and leave her fortune to her two long lost English nephews, they resolve to pass themselves off as her relatives and get the cash.
The only trouble is the relatives aren’t nephews but nieces. Romantic entanglements abound, especially when Leo falls head over petticoat in love with the old lady’s vivacious niece, Meg, who is engaged to the local minister, Duncan. Meg has always wanted to be an actress in a Shakespearean play especially “Twelfth Night” and when she finally meets her cousins “Maxine” and “Stephanie” is when she finally gets a taste of it. Throw in a horny, old doctor who can’t seem to diagnose his patients correctly, his addlebrained son, Butch who is madly in love with Audrey, a dumb blonde who is a waitress on roller skates at a nearby restaurant and you have the necessary ingredients for this madcap farcical romp that will keep you laughing all night long.
Director Pat Hawkridge’s brilliant direction brings out the comic moments so perfectly that these nine talented energetic student performers win a well deserved standing ovation at the close of the show. She picked the best performers for these roles and keeps the action flowing constantly. Their timing is impeccable. The last farce I reviewed at RIC was “Tartuffe” back in 2014. The gorgeous opulent two story mansion set is by Katryne Hecht and the breathtaking gorgeous costumes are by Marcia Zammarelli especially impressive are the ladies gowns including the two men in drag, too. The leading men who play leading ladies in this show are Matt Fagan, a tall, good looking blond as Jack Gable and Victor Neto, a good looking smaller brunette as Leo Clark. They might look homely as women especially Matt but they act up a storm going back and forth as Stephanie and Maxine. Matt’s character, Jack is madly in love with Audrey and he keeps hugging her all night long both as Jack and Stephanie. Meanwhile both the doctor and Butch fall madly in love with Stephanie. Matt is a hoot in this role, moving with ease between the two characters. Victor falls in love with Meg while dressed as Maxine which leads to many sticky and wacky moments of hilarity. He is a dynamic actor whether he is spouting Shakespeare or while he is dressed as Maxine. Both of them are hysterical in their roles giving tour de force performances.
Andrea Vargas is wonderful as Meg. She blossoms in this role when she finally stands up to her cheapskate boyfriend, Duncan and finding true love at last. Andrea’s interactions with the other characters are splendid especially when she moons over meeting Leo for the first time. The dastardly minister is excellently played by Taylor Santoro. He doesn’t want Meg to split the 3 million with her two cousins and wants her to give it to his foundation. Taylor’s prickly behavior is right on the money as this unpleasant character. Maddie Rea is fantastic as the ditzy Audrey. She is a pretty statuesque girl who keeps telling everyone the meaning of the big words she spouts. Maddie’s roller skating scene is hilarious, too. She also proves maybe Audrey is smarter than everyone thinks. The ornery aunt who never seems to die is excellently played by Emily Fleet who swings a mean cane and runs roughshod over one and all. She makes all her one liners hit pay dirt. The Doctor is well played by Remy DeJoseph who has some insulting one liners with Duncan and some romantic ones with Stephanie. Francis Brissette is hilarious as Butch who constantly combs his cowlick. The character is dumber than dirt and when he recites his Shakespearean lines too fast until he is told to insert Mississippi in between every five words. One of his funniest lines is that he feels like a talking mop when he’s wearing a Dutch boy wig. Rounding out the cast is Clay Thompson as the Narrator and other various characters. To say anymore about the antics of this incredible cast would be giving away the twists and turns of this charming farce. Think “Some Like It, Hot” movie to get an idea about what this show is like. So be sure to head over to RIC to see “Leading Ladies.” It is a barrel of laughs.
LEADING LADIES (9 to 19 November)
Rhode Island College, Forman Theatre, 600 Mount Pleasant Ave., Providence, RI
1(401)456-8144 or www.ric.edu/mtd