‘Leading Ladies” gets laughs the old-fashioned way. Not with witty social commentary or snide wordplay, but with simple sexual double-entendre, cute, ditsy girls on roller skates and, of course, with men in drag. It opens Cascades Theatrical Company’s 30th season tonight (see “If you go”).
Here’s the premise: It’s 1952. Leo Clark and Jack Gable, played by Joel Clements and Caleb Neet, respectively, are English Shakespearean actors trying to shake out a living from their craft. Unfortunately, the Moose Lodge circuit is less than lucrative. It probably doesn’t help that the two men don’t exactly have a company large enough to put on any actual plays and have been forced to get creative, so to speak, with their material. They call it “Scenes from Shakespeare.”
Broke and desperate, Leo hatches a plan when he learns that a rich old lady in York, Pa., is looking for her long-lost family members, Max and Steve, to come collect their chunk of inheritance when she “kicks the bucket.”
It gives nothing away to reveal that Max and Steve are not the nephews that Leo and Jack had hoped to impersonate and are instead nieces Maxine and Stephanie. No problem, Leo decides. They have British accents, they have dresses. What more does a girl need?
Leading Ladies is “So sitcom, so cheese-ball,” said Neet, “I think it’s going to be a riot.”
Ken Ludwig’s 2004 play references other works liberally. Foremost on the list is the classic Marilyn Monroe/Tony Curtis/Jack Lemmon movie “Some Like it Hot.” Except in this case, Leo falls in love with Meg (Nicole Mitchell), rich, old Florence’s actual niece, who happens to be engaged to be married to a fuddy-duddy of a preacher named Duncan, and Jack falls for ingenue Audrey (Jennifer Boyd).
Allusions in “Leading Ladies” don’t tend to be subtle, so in case you weren’t thinking of “Twelfth Night” already, Maxine/Leo and Meg decide to put on a production of the play in which a young girl dressed as a man falls in love with a duke. It’s over their love of theater that Meg and Leo begin to fall in love with each other.
No one is spared being the butt of the joke in this comedy. The show teases the Bard and some of his favorite plot devices (Do theatrical love letters ever make it to their intended recipient in comedies?), old people, young people, people who don’t think dirty jokes are funny and even the actors themselves.
At one point, Duncan, well-played as a stuffy creep by Michael Coffman, says, “Actors are liars; they lie for a living.”
And for what? For glory?
Not if you ask Mountain View High School English teacher Clements. He said he and Neet “both pretty early on said, ‘If we try to hold on to our dignity, this will be a terrible play.’” But, he adds, “as long as you don’t mind laughing at yourself, then it’s just funny.”
And the fact is, this show is pretty funny. Even if you walk in the door with a notion of your own sophistication, this show will make you laugh. You might roll your eyes at the same time, but you’ll laugh.
From left, Caleb Neet, Joel Clements, Thea Rhiannon and Jennifer Boyd rehearse “Leading Ladies” at Cascades Theatrical Company.
Nicole Mitchell, right, talks on the phone with Michael Coffman, far left, during a rehearsal of “Leading Ladies.”