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Covedale‘s Leading Ladies Avoids Brute Farce

Review by Doug Iden of Leading Ladies: Covedale Theatre

What’s not to like about a bedroom farce. Where else would you find a recipe of pratfalls, mistaken identities, malaprops, misunderstandings. men dressed as unattractive women, rapid-fire dialogue, labyrinthine plots and silly hilarity. All of these incongruous ingredients are in the mix at the Covedale Theater’s opening of Leading Ladies.

Ken Ludwig’s masterwork tells the story of two British wannabe Shakespearean actors (Leo played by Daniel Cooley and Jack portrayed by Drew Davidson) stuck in rural Pennsylvania doing play vignettes for a group of drunken Moose lodge members. Penniless, they are looking for their next gig when they read about a dying woman (Florence played by Peggy Allen) who wants to leave her fortune to her long lost British nephews who end up being nieces instead. So the actors don women’s costumes, assume the roles of Maxine and Stephanie, and attempt to bilk the matron by posing as her long lost kin.

While there, the actors meet the other zany characters including a lecherous doctor (Harold Murphy), his son Butch (Elliot Handkins) who is dating an ebullient teenager Audrey (Leiren Jackson) and a granddaughter Meg (Natasha Boeckmann) who is engaged to uptight pastor Duncan (Jamie Steele). Now the plot complications start as Leo/Maxine falls in love with the affianced Meg and Jack/Stephanie is enamored with Audrey who is dating Butch. Are you confused yet? Further, Stephanie is supposedly deaf and dumb so Jack/Stephanie can’t talk, at least for the first act.

Meg’s ambition is to be a Shakespearean actress and has heard of Leo and Jack. Maxine claims to be a friend of Leo and arranges for Leo and Jack to appear for a performance of Twelfth Night. For the remainder of the play, Leo and Jack switch back and forth between their alter-egos. Leading Ladies unabashedly channels Twelfth Night creating a play within a play within a play scenario.

This show is very funny although, caution, the play contains a lot of innuendo, double entrendres, gender bending and farcical sexual situations.

The cast is excellent, headed by Daniel Cooley as Leo/Maxine. Cooley must assume a male British accent and a female voice with lightning-quick costume and vocal changes as he careens from character to character. Cooley does it amazingly well. Ditto Drew Davidson as Jack/Stephanie. They also do a lot of running around in high heels. The two male leads must be believable as the pseudo-women and Cooley and Davidson accomplish that. The other cast members add to the hilarity as well.

For farce to work, the comic timing is critical, which is a testament both to the actors and to veteran Covedale Theater director Bob Brunner. As a member of the audience, you feel as though you are in the center of a theatrical tornado with the screwball dialogue, rapid costume changes and the occasional pratfall (literally).

Caren Young’s costumes add to the absurdity of the show, mixing rather outlandish Shakespearean clothes with modern attire. The actual women are dressed either normally or elegantly and the faux-women’s clothes appear to be purchased from a garage sale. The mixture of clothing adds to the intertwining of the play with Twelfth Night.

The single set design by Brett Bowling shows an elegant living room with a lot of detail, including many pictures on the wall. The introductory scene for Leo and Jack at the Moose lodge is effectively staged with action on the wings in front of a gauze curtain.

If bedroom farce is your bag (and it should be), join in the hilarity of Leading Ladies at the Covedale Theater running through April 2. You don’t have to wait for an eleventh or Twelfth Night. Tickets are available by calling 513-241-6550 or going to the Covedale website, www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/ccpa