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LA Theater Review

Leading Ladies

Playwright-farceur Ken Ludwig, perhaps best known for his door-slamming Tony winner Lend Me a Tenor, provides here a somewhat tamer tale of cross-dressing fortune hunters. Leo Clark and Jack Gable are second-rate British Shakespearean actors relegated to the rubber-chicken dinner circuit of American fraternal organizations. Initially plotting to pass themselves off as the long-lost relations of a dying wealthy spinster, they discover that "Max" and "Steve" are short for Maxine and Stephanie. Cue the hilarity, right? For the most part, director Richard Israel and his lively cast of eight deliver the goods. Any stumbles, lags, or missteps seem to stem from Ludwig's clunky script. It's obvious that the ensemble, ably led by Bruce Ladd and Kyle Nudo as Leo and Jack, throw themselves headlong into the abyss. The two actors scamper nimbly between their characters' true identities and female alter egos with glee. The resemblance, whether intentional or not, to Tom Hanks' and Peter Scolari's efforts on Bosom Buddies is an unavoidable homage. As Meg, the much younger fiancée of a stuffy local minister, and Audrey, an effervescent, roller-skating college student, Karla Droege and Tawny Mertes play ideal foils and love interests to our pair of gender-bending ham sandwiches. Carl J. Johnson's splutteringly flustered take on the Rev. Duncan Wooley is bull's-eye perfect; his reverend suspects the truth but can prove nothing. As Doc, the town physician, Gus Corrado serves as the curmudgeonly antithesis to Johnson's character. Doc's son, Butch, played with relative blandness by Aaron Misakian, serves merely as Audrey's original love interest. And as the loaded, supposedly frail dowager, Barbara Kerr Condon puts a wickedly caustic slant on Aunt Florence. Unfortunately, Condon chugs around the stage pumping her arms like a human choo-choo; though funny at first, the choice wears thin rather quickly. The designs are downright terrific. Stephen Gifford's set, a drawing room of golden creams accented with forest green, is sumptuous. Blanca Honigstein's costuming is glorious, highlighted by an endless array of gowns, dresses, and pantsuits modeled by the show's stars.

Presented by Actors Co-op at the Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sunday 2:30 p.m. (Dark Fri. 8 p.m. Oct. 31.) Oct. 10-Nov. 16. (323) 462-8460, ext. 300.

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