Men in high heels

Hilarious farce opens at Theatre on the Ridge

Leading ladies Christopher Jones (left) and Eric Ricketts slip into their roles of “Stephanie” and “Maxine.”

Leading ladies Christopher Jones (left) and Eric Ricketts slip into their roles of “Stephanie” and “Maxine.”

Photo courtesy of theatre on the ridge

Leading Ladies plays Thursday-Saturday, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 2 p.m. through April 19.
Tickets: $10-$20

Theatre on the Ridge
3735 Neal Road in Paradise.

If you’re hungry for a good laugh, check out Leading Ladies, the Ken Ludwig play that opened a three-weekend run on Thursday (March 27) at the Theatre on the Ridge playhouse.

The prolific Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Twentieth Century) is known for writing farcical light comedies popular with summer stock and community theaters, and Leading Ladies is one of his best. The TOTR cast and crew, led by director Jerry Miller, had Friday’s packed house in stitches throughout.

The comedy centers on two over-the-hill Shakespearean actors, Leo Clark (played by Eric Ricketts) and Jack Gable (Christopher Jones), who are reduced to performing “Scenes from Shakespeare” on the Moose Lodge circuit. It’s 1952, and they’re on a train to York, Pa., when they read in a newspaper that Florence (Judy Clemens), an older York woman near death, has been unable to find Max and Steve, her sister’s children who, when very young, moved to England. Florence wants them to share in her inheritance, which amounts to $3 million.

Leo and Jack decide to pose as Max and Steve to claim some of the money. Then they learn that Max and Steve are actually “Maxine” and “Stephanie.” Unfazed, they soldier on, dipping into their costume trunk to dress in drag. (The costumes are hilarious.)

This wacky setup leads to all kinds of funny mixups and confusion. In York, Leo—playing “Maxine”—befriends and then falls in love with the pretty ingénue Meg (Alyssa Larson), but she’s engaged to Duncan (Patrick Allen Brown), a priggish pastor. Meanwhile, Jack, as “Stephanie,” is attracted to Florence’s aide, Audrey (Shaunna Jones), who is engaged to Butch (Mitch Valentine and Brayden Crosswhite, doubling in the role).

Then there’s the bibulous Doc Myers (Jeff Dickenson), Butch’s dad, who is Florence’s physician, though she thinks he’s the worst doctor in the world because every time she falls asleep in her wheelchair he thinks she’s died. Dickenson is delightful, turning a minor part into a comic gem.

I say “minor part,” but that’s a relative notion. All of the characters here are rich comedic creations, giving the actors plenty to work with. And by and large they do a terrific job. Ricketts and Jones, as the “leading ladies,” carry the greatest weight, switching from Leo and Jack to Maxine and Stephanie and back again with ease. Ricketts, in particular, had his female side in evidence, moving adroitly in high heels.

I especially enjoyed their performance of “Scenes from Shakespeare.” It was like The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), the famous three-man comedy (“37 plays in 97 minutes!”), only much shorter, if you can imagine that.

Jones’ wife, Shaunna, was another especially bright spot as Audrey. Indeed, along with Dickenson she was one of the major scene-stealers in the production. In this she was much aided by her husband, who, as “Stephanie,” kept resting his head on her ample bosom.

The one pairing that didn’t quite work for me was that of Larson as Meg, with Brown as Duncan. She’s such a vibrant presence, so spring-like in her blooming sensuality, and he’s such a passionless dud, it’s hard to imagine what led her even to consider marrying him. She says it’s because he helped her when her parents died, but he seems anything but kind. The pair are meant to be mismatched, of course, but we need to find the characters’ relationship conceivable, and we don’t. Or at least I didn’t.

The play has several different sets and numerous set changes, which Miller, who designed (and, with Michael Clemens, built) the sets, stage manager Autumn Jay and lighting designer Gary Kupp handled dexterously. The TOTR playhouse is tiny, and the stage is shallow, so there’s a limit on how expansive the sets can be. Nevertheless, the staging ranged from a railroad car to a Moose lodge, from a church to Florence’s country estate, and it all worked quite well.