Leading Ladies is a charming little farce written by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Eleanore Tapscott, this production at Vienna Theatre Company is sure to be a popular, audience-pleasing production. The plot puts a 1950s spin on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night utilizing the gender-swapping present in the original. This play tells an unconventional love story with charm and energy unique to this talented cast.
Blake Gouhari (Leo/Maxine) and Scott Stofko (Jack/Stephanie) play down-on-their-luck actors who have been touring the Moose Lodge circuit with a condensed, two-person mashup show of Shakespeare’s plays. When Leo and Jack see an ad in a local paper seeking the long-lost relatives of ailing heiress Florence (Jessie Roberts), the two make a plan to become “Max” and “Steve” in order to have a shot at being on the receiving end of Florence’s inheritance. The plot twist? The masculine names in the paper are shortened versions of “Maxine” and “Stephanie,” the heiress’ nieces. Not to be deterred, Leo and Jack take their women’s costumes and plunge bravely into the fray.
Gouhari and Stofko have wonderful comedic timing and are enthralling whether playing men or women. The core love story, involving Gouhari as Leo/Maxine and Melissa Dunlap as Meg, proceeds in a manner typical to 1950s films. Ludwig’s writing is pitch perfect in this regard. Dunlap is adorable and comes across as innocent enough to miss the fact that Maxine is really Leo.
At the beginning of the play, Meg is set to marry Duncan (Cal Whithurst)—who seems more interested in her inheritance from her aunt Florence than in her. Likewise, local scamp Audrey (Dana Gattuso) and her boyfriend Butch (Ric Andersen)—along with his lascivious father Doc(Steven Rosenthal)—add additional flavor to the story.
The entire cast of this production works together in a way that is unique and absolutely necessary for this type of script. As happens so often in farce, when one character is up the other is down. The push and pull—especially between Dunlap’s Meg and Gouhari’s Maxine/Leo—provides just the right energy to evoke the nostalgia of an older film. Each cast member brings their own special flair to their role resulting in a strong play across the board.
Set Designer Nicolas Queyrane does a fantastic job with the limited space: We go from the Moose Lodge, to the mansion, to the train and back again before the first act is complete. Likewise, Sound Designer Jon Roberts has plucked some choice effects from his bag of tricks for this production. Paired with Juliana Cofrancesco and Carol Poppas era-appropriate costuming choices, these elements enhance this larger-than-life play.
With Leading Ladies, Vienna Theatre Company proves that they are not your average local theater company. A talented cast combines with a genuinely funny script to make Leading Ladies a must-see.
Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Leading Ladies plays through February 2, 2020 at the Vienna Theatre Company playing at the Vienna Community Center—120 Cherry Street Southeast in Vienna, VA. Tickets can be purchased online.