Monday, July 22, 2013

Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig

L- R Michael German (Standing), Darcy Silveira (seated), David Narloch (seated)

By Joe Straw

Okay, this time I brought chairs, and it was a little easier to enjoy the park when you are sitting on chairs. Away from the bugs and other crawling creatures, one can relax under a shady tree and enjoy the show.

Culver City Public Theatre, celebrating its 15th Anniversary, presents Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig and directed by Lewis Hauser.  Produced by Heidi Dotson and Ria Parody Erlich, this production has plenty of laughs and makes for an enjoyable afternoon.  And it’s free.

“Florence Snider (Ria Parody Erlich) has died.  Gently taken this spring of 1958, she died peacefully in her sleep surrounded by doctor, friends and family. Florence, not a minimalist being by any stretch of the imagination, was the owner of the biggest house in York Pennsylvania.  We are saddened by the tragic lost of the filthiest richest woman on the hill and regretfully we send our condolences.  She is survived by a niece Meg Snider and…” York Daily Record *

Meg Snider (Rosie Mandel), wealthy niece to Florence and promising thespian, loves the theatre.  It is early evening and she is waiting for her beau, the Reverend Duncan Wooley (P.J. Waggaman) for a night of Shakespeare at the Moose Lodge. Impatient, she commands him to run to her.  And he does. Unfortunately, the honest Reverend has loaned out his car and now they have no way to get to the theatre (eh hem…Moose Lodge).  Meg is incensed that she will miss performances by two of the finest Shakespearian actors in the world, or, at least,  the ones she knows.  

At the Loyal Order of The Moose Lodge in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, Doc Myers (Phil Hunter) and his moose minions are dipping into the buffet spread as Leo Clark (David Narloch) and Jack Gable (Michael German) perform their Shakespeare tidbits, an annotation version, if you will.   And both of them together, of course, are Clark Gable in names only. 

Doc, not liking the performances, runs them out of the lodge and asks them not to come back.

Now they are stuck at a train station, with no money, Clark and Gable scouring the local paper for opportunities finds a rich local woman has died (Yes!  It’s Florence Snider) and has left her relatives Max and Steve one million dollars as an inheritance. Leo Clark suggests they arrive at the doorsteps and claim the inheritance.  It is a beautiful plan, which according to Clark cannot fail.

But there’s a problem.  Neither one knows Florence Snider (Ria Parody Erlich).  So they ask a local book loving, roller-skating waitress Audrey (Darcy Silveira) about the Snider family.  Audrey says she has worked for them and fills them in to the details but tells them Max and Steve are really Maxine and Stephanie.

This does not present a problem for Clark.  They’ve got a suitcase filled with costumes, they are both actors, and Clark sees this as a minor impediment to their future wealth. Gable, with his deep manly voice, doesn’t think it’s a good ideal. Clark says he will do all of the talking and that Gable can play the deaf mute complete with fake sign language.

When they get to the house dressed as women, Clark is immediately enchanted with Meg. Suddenly they find out that Florence Snider is not dead, just deathly ill, well not even that, and she greets her long-lost nieces as though they were her daughters. Gable is infatuated with Audrey and Butch Myers (Daniel Ray Litz), Audrey’s boyfriend, is strung out like a polish sausage.

Reverend Duncan Wooley doesn’t like what he sees and he tries his best to get the goods on these two intruders.

  L - R -  Daniel Ray Litz, Phil Hunter, Michael German, Darcy Silveira, David Narloch, P.J. Waggaman, Ria Parody Erlich and Rosie Mandel

Rosie Mandel is charming as Meg Snider.  But slightly misses in creating specific relationships with each of her loves. Not enough details are given in her characterization or in the fact that she might be crossing over to the other side, her side. Her dialogue suggests she is fed up with the Reverend, also her dialogue says she like to go into her bed room, strip down, and sprinkle water over her naked body and lie on the bed with the intention of enticing another woman.  But, she does little in her physical life to reach that objective. That said, she has some very nice moments citing Shakespeare.

P.J. Waggaman played Reverend Duncan Wooley and he must be totally in love with the money. Nothing else.  The comedy is better when it’s about the money. And with that said the character must never take his eyes off the money.  He must have a reason to loan his car (the money), to console his future wife (the money), to rat on his recently acquired acquaintances (the money!) All of his actions on stage must be about the money.

Phil Hunter plays Doc Myers and his performance is enjoyable from start to finish.  His characterization, his movements on stage, and his truth in his being all rang true for me. He has a marvelous instrument and is wonderful in his craft. And he is funny to boot.  But what makes him such a lousy doctor?

Michael German plays Jack Gable and Stephanie.  Dashing in a suit and, oddly enough, better looking in his wig and dress.   German provided plenty of laughs in this production.

David Narloch plays Leo Clark and Maxine and does it with a lot of Shakespearian flair. Among his human vanities is his overstated belief in his perspicacity that appears to be surface in nature.  The scene where Leo and Maxine are both vocalizing off stage was incredibly funny and not fooling anyone. Narloch has some very nice moments when Leo, as Maxine, falls in love with Meg. And Narloch has a marvelous voice.

Darcy Silveira does a nice little turn as the roller-skating Audrey (No pun intended.).  I’m sure there’s a little something extra needed in this character. Audrey comes out in roller skates, infatuated with books, and immediately takes an attraction to the exciting actors suggesting that she doesn’t want her current boyfriend.

Daniel Ray Litz has a very good look as Butch Myers.  The name Butch gives away something about his character, which was not fully loaded and was not specific in his objective. The character really has to try harder to keep the girl, to fight off other suitors, and to take a stand, drawl a line in the sand, etc. All this would help this character realize the comedy.

Ria Parody Erlich was Florence Snider and I saw a lot of substance in her characterization. Probably the hardest thing to do is to pull off a good character when you’re dying and Snider is dying throughout the play.  From beginning to end, she was marvelous.

Lewis Hauser, the director, gives us delightful moments throughout. But no character really takes a good look at the two in drag nor makes any kind of distinction, when in real life we do that everyday.  We take notice, make a mental note, take action, and move on.  Don’t see that happening here. The hugs don’t really work with Audrey and Gable unless they carry the relationship to another level after each hug. The actors tend to wander about the stage and this should be cleaned up. Also a rather strange occurrence happened when both actors left the stage looking for a newspaper prop that was nicely tucked under a seat. After what seemed like an eternity of an empty stage the actors came back on and recovered – something about buying a cup of coffee. Also, not much is made of the name Clark Gable and it could be.

I read that Ken Ludwig, the writer, has written a show that is fun for all ages and could be performed in venues all over the United States.  Ludwig’s play captures the essence of a British farce with and places it in Pennsylvania with American characters. And he succeeds marvelously.  This is a show that is pure camp and everyone needs to go to camp.  

Sometimes I think that having no set in the park is a better option.  Let the actors create the space and see how real we can get. A little symbolism goes a long way.  I saw this set last year in Goldoni’s A Servant With Two Masters.  Possibly there is something out there, a prefabricated set that can be used and set up many ways.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Danit Rothstein – Stage Manager
Robert Ballo – Set Designer
Sheridan Cole – Costumes (Note:  a very nice job with the particular period)
Susan Stangl – Sound Design
Victoria Miller – Choreographer (Note:  Also a very nice dance sequence.)
Producers – Heidi Dotson and Ria Parody Erlich

Run!  And bring lots of friends that love to laugh.  

Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm through August 18, 2013

* A parody of an obituary.

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