Hilarity at TheatreWorks
If you're in the mood for laughter, Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig is sure to exercise your diaphragm. Michael Bolinksi as director squeezes virtuallly all the juice from a script that runs perilously close to self-parody. This amusing 2004 farce about two desperate Shakespearean actors on-the-make has deep roots in Molière as well as the Marx Brothers. Having fallen to the bottom of the acting profession, these down-and-out actors turn con artists. They must enact their greatest performance in real life (and in drag costume) in a play within a play, concluding with an inept sketch of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
As Leo/Maxine Hal Chernoff offers romantic afflatus, sincerity, agonizing anguish combined with admirable energy. Rob Pawlikowski as Jack/Stephanie provides angry resignation, English charm, and dizzy confusion rooted in practicality. Notwithstanding that both actors are about a decade older than casting should dictate, they offer a marvelous performance and one does not really care about their age. Rob's facial antics are remarkable.
Yet the ladies nearly manage to upstage the men. Carey Van Hollen as Meg casts a languid spell of an upper-class woman vulnerable, immersed in isolation and drowning in naïve romance. Young Victoria Calamito emanates dynamic stage presence with vivacious humor. Daniel Basiletti, as the dorkish town minister Duncan, is saddled with the weakest written role in the script; he offers a kind of Don Knotts interpretation of this one-dimensional role, yet he might have enlivened his complexity by offering a dose of scheming charm as the stock villain.
Edwin Arce II as Butch could have had more lines written for him in the script; he excels as an Elizabethan clown, a silent role that supplies him with more freedom than his underwritten role as suitor. Mary Wilson as Florence the matriarch has few lines, but she extracts magic from the lines, as well as her gait and gestures. Ron Dukenski, whose role as Doctor Meyers appears to have been lifted from a Chekhov play, entertains with lumbering eloquence, mischievous frankness, and volcanic lust, but all of this to impotent effect in this tightly ironic play.
The single set is both attractive and effectively functional; Susan Aziz as costumer does a superb job. The play has toured in Canada, Sweden, and Czechoslovakia.
This excellent middle-brow comedy runs at a modest price (tickets are $23/ $18 for students and military) until October 10. Restaurants in New Milford remain fairly inexpensive while accompanied by good cooking.