ROSWELL, Ga. — Really? Yet another comedy about two guys in drag who must fool everyone around them to accomplish some totally preposterous ends?
Well, as Sid Caesar famously said once about one of his tried and true TV routines:
“It’s funny. And you never cut funny.”
Georgia Ensemble Theater Artistic Director James Donadio said as much about his latest production “Leading Ladies.” It is a comedy, and that is all it tries to be. And it tries very hard. And it succeeds.
That is reason enough to see Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s gender-bending comedy about two struggling actors (Are there any other kind?). They seize the chance to play the roles of a lifetime when they learn a rich old lady is about to die and wants to leave all her money to her two distant nephews.
They quickly hatch an improbable scheme to impersonate the two English nephews, cash in on the inheritance and give up playing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit forever.
But things take a drastic turn (horrors!) when they discover that the two distant relations are nieces — not nephews. Undeterred, these feisty thespians don drag, and soldier on to become the “heiresses” due all to the moolah.
So why do it now? It’s been done from “Twelfth Night” to “Tootsie.” Director James Donadio willingly concedes the play is all about the laughs. But that is reason enough.
“But with a writer such as Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” and “The Game’s Afoot”) to write it for you, that’s as good a start as it gets. It’s a fast and furious ride. It’s great fun, and that is all it tries to be,” Donadio said.
Donadio says his theory of directing is to always be pushing the envelope, and comedy is just another direction to push and explore, one where the results are immediate.
The audience either laughs or it doesn’t. With “Leading Ladies,” the audience laughs early and often.
“It’s not meant to be anything else. And for a winter season play, it is just the ticket audiences want,” he said.
That “Leading Ladies” does succeed is due to a cast that buys into its premise. It begins with the two protagonists, ne’er-do-well Shakespearean actors (Robin Bloodworth and Allen Dillon) have chosen to throw away all caution (and semblance of common sense) to pose as the long-lost heirs to a dead woman is only the first gentle tug at credulity.
However the out-of-work thespians soon discover that the old woman is merely dying, and that the missing-presumed heirs are women. Undeterred, they are yet willing to pursue the goal of claiming the inheritance.
They also fall in love with the two ingenues (Caroline Ficken and Casey Gardener) to further thicken the plot. “Ladies” becomes a rollercoaster ride from there. Think the Three Stooges ascending by stages to Laurel and Hardy to The Marx Brothers and ending with Monty Python.
The audience finally abandons all reason and finds it is reaping a hilarious whirlwind ride that ends in… but here we find simple words cannot do justice.
The better choice is to “pay yer money” and hop on board for the uproarious ride that is “Leading Ladies.” No one is safe, not even the audience is safe (as they find out in the very beginning).
Donadio’s motely crew leads us on a mirthful journey, and once aboard there is no getting off.
Kudos to GET for choosing “Ladies” as a much-needed comedic winter break and for Donadio’s deft handling of a talented and peripatetic cast.
This gets one gets two thumbs up, five stars and a Twinkie. Grinches need not apply.