Ken Ludwig’s “Leading Ladies” isn’t at the level of his classic farce “Lend Me a Tenor,” but its milder charms are still entertaining. The new production by Actors Co-op suffers from a lackluster first act, but it rebounds impressively in act two, delivering plenty of laughs.
Leo (Bruce Ladd) and Jack (Kyle Nudo) are two down-on-their-luck British actors in 1958 America, touring “Scenes From Shakespeare” at uninspiring venues such as the local Moose Lodge. They read a newspaper account of how a rich elderly lady is looking for some long-lost British relatives, Max and Steve, to leave them each a million-dollar inheritance and they decide to impersonate these relatives, until local girl Audrey (Tawny Mertes) informs them that Max and Steve are female. They determine to forge ahead regardless, but when Leo falls for his new “relative,” Meg (Karla Droege), their situation becomes far more complicated.
Ladd excels as both the brusque Leo and the more maternal “Maxine,” and he shines in a scene toward the end of the play where he has to enact a conversation between the two personas. Nudo is equally fine as the frustrated Jack, but is funnier as “Stephanie,” and his attempted seduction sequence is quite amusing. Droege brings real emotion and charm to her perf as Meg, and Mertes is very funny as the blithely positive Audrey, with her Brando impression as a particular highlight. Carl J. Johnson is appropriately peevish as Meg’s fiancé Duncan, and Barbara Kerr Condon is effectively commanding as the rich Florence. Gus Corrado and Aaron Misakian are both good in smaller roles.
In any farce, the setup is generally less amusing than the payoff, but Ludwig’s writing in “Ladies” first act feels flat and stereotypical, and the laughs are desultory. Thankfully, the second act has the energy and humor lacking in the first, but the play is lopsided as a result. Director Richard Israel doesn’t manage to overcome this problem, unfortunately. Also, if one doesn’t inherently find the concept of men in drag to be hilarious, the appeal of the play will be less.
Tech credits are adequate.