Take a couple of washed up, over-enunciating actors who desperately need money, add an almost-dead millionaire, a fraudulent opportunity to impersonate a potential heiresses, and stir in a couple of ill-timed bouts of falling in love and you've got the plot for Ken Ludwig's zany comedy, Leading Ladies, the season opener for Studio Players.
Directed by Marty Wayman, the farcical romp is the quintessential Studio show. It's an evening of lighthearted silliness with the actors having as much fun as the audience.
The play centers around Leo (Ryan Briggs) and Jack (Will Drane), two Shakespearean actors so far down the ladder that they're getting kicked out of performances at small town Moose Lodges. Without a penny to their name, they hear about a recently deceased rich lady who is searching desperately for her heirs. The men decide to use their acting skills to impersonate the heirs to collect the money, but they encounter more than a few hiccups along the way. For one, the heirs are actually heiresses, so the lads must raid their old theater costumes, transforming into Cleopatra and a hodge podge of Shakespeare heroines. Also, surprise (and mild spoiler alert), the recently deceased rich lady (Sheila Miller) isn't deceased at all.
This is the kind of show where ham is the only thing on the menu, and, the more, the better.
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Briggs and Drane are particularly riotous when they make their Shakespearean entrance, verbally dueling via overly inflated gesticulations and unnatural splices of lines from a variety of Shakespeare plays. They parody the over-acting often seen in less polished Shakespeare shows with relish.
They portray the false heiresses Maxine and Stephanie with equal flourish, each wildly over playing their feminine traits with hilarious flourish. Briggs' character is perhaps most interesting when his Leo "creates" the character Maxine, who becomes a character in her own right, so distinctly different from Leo in her mannerisms and temperament than Leo's love interest initially falls for Maxine instead.
Drane provides a humorous counterpoint to Brigg's antics with his Stephanie character less developed than Maxine. Instead, Drane's Jack remains hyper aware of the surreality of the situation: he is a dude in a dress and he tries to make the most of it. "Give us a hug!" he keeps saying to love interest Audrey (Evander Hodges). In fact there's something a touch Benny Hill in his delivery.
Joe Fields-Elswick does a good job of keeping the pacing and momentum alive as the mirthful Meg, Leo's love interest, and Hodges earns some of the evening's best laughs with her Marlon Brando delivery of lines from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
The entire evening is a welcome, comical escape from our everyday lives — something Studio Players does well.