Mark Linder as Leo and Andrew Williams as Jack in Leading Ladies at Kanata Theatre


Kanata Theatre's sparkling season opener, Leading Ladies

Theatre Review: Leading Ladies
Patrick Langston, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA - Men in drag: a comedic device that should have long ago outlived its humour potential. But Ken Ludwig's Leading Ladies, Kanata Theatre's sparkling season opener, still manages to turn guys in dresses into a laugh riot.

Leo Clark and Jack Gable are a couple of barely employed Shakespearean actors (small wonder they're job-challenged: their routine, foisted on unsuspecting audiences on the Moose Lodge circuit, is a lame medley of famous Shakespearean lines accompanied by swordplay and overwrought deaths). Hearing of a dowager whose will names two long-vanished women as beneficiaries of her millions, the boys disguise themselves as those women.

Leo and Jack descend on the dowager's household with hilarious results. Jealousy and greed ignite, romances bloom while others are dashed, people behave badly, as they're wont to do. It's none of it profound, but under Peter Williams' fluid, well-paced direction, it is one heck of a lot of absurd fun.

Mark Linder plays the fiery Leo, an actor just waiting for his big break. Convinced his questionable acting skills will pass him off as one of the dowager's inheritors, he disguises himself as a beefy shouldered, big-bosomed drama queen in a ridiculous Cleopatra outfit (costumes by Eufron Williams). His weary, much-put-upon partner Jack is played by Andrew Williams who, in his female role, stumps about in singularly inelegant fashion wearing the unflattering diaphanous costume of Titania, the fairy from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, complete with silly little wings.

Both excellent comic actors, Linder and Williams come into their own especially when dressed as women (sorry, fellas). As Pastor Duncan (Gordon Walls, at his pompous best) observes: "They're actors: they lie for a living."

Kelly Fuoco plays the perky, star-struck Meg. At first, and inappropriately, engaged to the priggish Duncan, she falls big-time for the charming Leo. The roller-skating, likeable ditz Audrey (Sherry Thurig), meanwhile, is swept away by Jack and channels Marlon Brando when, at the end of the play, the characters gather to rehearse Twelfth Night, one of several nods to other works that playwright Ludwig builds into Leading Ladies.

Others in the strong ensemble cast include Bill Horsman as the incompetent Doc Meyers, Mark McPherson as his ineffectual son Butch, and Gwendy Tolley as the feisty dowager Florence, who refuses to die.

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