LEADING LADIES: Exceptionally Funny Farce at Playmasters

by Jean Brenner

The cast of LEADING LADIES at Playmasters: (Back row from left to right:) Nigel Rogers, Tim Kirk, Dave Kirby, Angie Schlauch; (Front row from left to right:) Joe Szumila, Carole Mancini, Joe Mattern, Laura Buttenbusch,

Playwright Ken Ludwig, known for LEND ME A TENOR and MOON OVER BUFFALO continues to demonstrate his ability to write exceptionally funny farces with his play, LEADING LADIES.

This play fulfills the dictionary definition: “A broadly comic dramatic work based on ludicrously, improbable events.”  But, not all farce is really funny.  It must be played sincerely, and more experienced actors know how to deliver the punch lines.

In a 2008 review in the Gaston (NC) Gazette, reviewer Bernie Petit correctly commented, “LEADING LADIES offers something audiences can’t get enough of: burly men disguised as women.”  What he didn’t say is those men must be good performers; they must play their roles believably.

This story is about two male Shakespearean actors down on their luck, almost penniless, and stuck in York, PA.

Learning of the story of a local woman who is dying with money to leave to relatives, Leo persuades Jack to help him impersonate her long lost nephews in order to inherit a million dollars each.  However, they soon discover a problem: the nephews really are nieces, so Leo and Jack choose to use their acting abilities and pretend to be nieces disguised in Shakespearean dresses from their suitcase. Aunt Florence has not seen her nieces since they were babies, so she will not know, Leo feels certain.  Leo instructs Jack to portray the deaf niece, setting up another set of farcical situations.

But, even a well-written farce requires good direction and good acting to make it work.  Fortunately, the participants at Playmasters in Bensalem, have met both.

Heather MacHenry, vice president of Playmasters Theatre Workshop, directed the play assisted by Fran Kane.  Both women are experienced actresses and directors.  They know the importance of good casting and excellent pacing, both of which were obvious in this production.

Not surprisingly, the more experienced actors gave the best performances in this production.

For instance, Nigel Rogers as Jack, the reluctant but always persuadable co-actor is a delight to watch with his fantastic facial expressions, excellent timing, and beautifully controlled broad interpretations.  He’s not “burly,” but he’s tall, gangly, and he looks perfectly silly in a wig and heels. It would be tempting, but Nigel needs to be careful not to do any more.  His role is done so well now, to exaggerate more would be a mistake actors often make when they get big laughs.

Tim Kirk, as Leo, has a large role and gives a strong performance.  He IS burly, and hairy. The off-shoulder dress he wears during his first “female” entrance precipitates much laughter. It was hard for Tim not to laugh, too, but he would be more convincing if he did not smile at his own very funny lines.

Everyone in the cast played their roles well. Joe Mattern, as the doctor, and Carole Mancini, as Aunt Florence, deserve special mention.  Their theatre experience is evident. They played their roles with sincerity and perfect timing, making them even funnier.

Angie Schlauch, an essential part of the story as Audrey, was exceptional in her portrayal, delivering some terrific lines with believability. She also managed to roller skate on stage without falling.  She is very comfortable on stage.

Laura Buttenbusch as leading ingénue, Meg, is pretty and showed good stage presence.  If she projects more, she will be heard better. She also needs to wait for the laughter to die down before continuing her dialogue.  We missed some of it.

In the role of Pastor Duncan, Joe Szumila was appropriately unlikable. David Kirby, a relative newcomer to the stage, played Butch, the doctor’s son, a not-too-bright guy in love with Audrey.

During the curtain call, I heard the woman sitting next to me say, “That’s the funniest show I ever saw!”   Based on the applause, it was obvious many people in the audience concurred.  LEADING LADIES provides a fun, inexpensive night (or matinee) seeing live theatre.

by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Heather MacHenry
The Playmasters
February 17-March 4, 2012
State Road
Neshaminy State Park
Bensalem, PA


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