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23 January 2009

Leading Ladies

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Theater review: “Leading Ladies” steps up with laughs at ACT

Tim Reid • published January 23, 2009 12:15 am

Asheville Community Theatre has a real crowd pleaser with “Leading Ladies,” Ken Ludwig's irrepressible comedy about two struggling actors posing as a wealthy woman's long-lost heirs.

Second-rate thespians Jack (Brad Pearsall) and Leo (Steve Wilde) are down to their last dollar as they travel rural Pennsylvania presenting snippets of Shakespeare at Moose lodges.

Jack reads that a rich old lady in a nearby town yearns to see her long-lost relatives Max and Steve before she dies. He decides to impersonate them in order to share in her multi-million-dollar inheritance.

Leo is a bundle of nerves, but Jack pulls him into the scam anyway. Leo's reservations turn to panic when they find out that Max and Steve are short for Maxine and Stephanie – they must pretend to be women!

Residents of York seem only too trusting when Jack and Leo arrive dressed in drag proclaiming to the long-lost relatives. Shirley Cohen nearly steals the show as irascible old Florence, who takes an instant liking to them.

Florence's real niece Meg (Brooke Whitcomb) is thrilled to welcome “Max” and “Steve” although it means she will share her aunt's inheritance with them. Ditzy blonde Audrey (Zoe Renert) met the actors on the train before they concocted the scheme but believes the scam anyway.

Mike Vaniman is hilarious as Florence's inept physician Doc Myers, who is obsessed with getting his spaced-out son Butch (Drew Collins) to marry a woman with money. The only person who sees through the actors' ruse is Meg's manipulative fiancé Duncan (Chris Martin), who wants her to get all of Florence's inheritance so he can do with it as he will.

Pearsall and Wilde are masterful at keeping up the tension as nervy Jack must constantly prop up erstwhile partner Leo lest he dissolve in fright and spoil the deception.

Director Michael and a talented cast wrest every laugh out of Ken Ludwig's brilliant script. This is the perfect play to puncture the winter doldrums.

Tim Reid reviews theater for the Citizen-Times. He can be contacted at timreid4@charter.net.