Story last updated at 11/4/2009 - 12:22 pm
Optimism is this year's theme at Perseverance Theatre. And what better time for it than now, when the economy is in need of a little good faith, the rain has spirits feeling a bit damp, and daylight savings seems to thieve away the last few bright hours from us northerly folk. Rendering two-down-on-their-luck, cross-dressing Shakespearean actors into an inspiring story of optimism will be a challenge, but Juneau's small-town big-time theater seems to shine when the going gets a little bit tough.
"Leading Ladies" is the story of two British thespians touring the Pennsylvania countryside to a less-than-adoring crowd. With Moose Lodge receptions leaving their egos bruised, the two begin looking for signs of hope. Hope appears to reveal herself when the gentlemen learn that a wealthy widow in the next town is searching for two long-lost relatives, Max and Steve, to whom to leave a sizeable inheritance. Desperate, the men jump at the chance to play the roles, only to discover that the absent nephews are not in fact Max and Steve, but Maxine and Stephanie, two long-lost nieces. Unwilling to forgo the potential fortune, the men do as any trained actors might - they improvise. Were this the only caper that befell the two unfortunates, they might succeed in swindling dotty Aunt Florence out of her money, but when lovely Meg and tantalizing Audrey enter the scene the potential for disaster, for love, and of course for comedy, is just too much.
The play, written by Ken Ludwig, premiered in October of 2004, but reads more like an American Comedic Standard than an off-Broadway experiment. Although his script is littered with the same theatrical conventions that you might recognize from Theatre in the Rough's performance of "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: abridged" - it was actually based on a scene from "Huckleberry Finn" where mistaken identity and swindle run amuck.
Ludwig said in a recent radio interview that the play is not exactly slapstick, but more along the lines of a "muscular comedy" filled with colorful characters with a fun story to tell.
"The comedy is somewhere between 'Noises Off' and 'Wittenberg,'" said Perseverance artistic director Art Rotch, mentioning that he advocated for the play because "I like a good comedy. And I like a man in a dress!"
Making his directing debut on the Perseverance Mainstage is Brandon Demery, who played the role of Hamlet in last year's production of "Wittenberg." Demery's cast is testament to Perseverance's "of Alaskans, for Alaskans" mission statement, bringing together performers from around Southeast. Two of the actual leading ladies, Allison Holtkamp (Meg) and Margeaux Heaton (Audrey), come to Juneau from Skagway, where Margeaux played the role of Belle in "The Days of '98 Show" and Allison tantalized visitors as a "madame" at the Red Onion Saloon. More familiar faces to Juneau theatre-goers include Becky Orford (Florence) and Dan Reaume (Leo) of last season's farce "The Government Inspector." Ben Brown (Duncan) appeared previously as the sole actor in the Perseverance Second Stage production of "Under the Lintel," as well as in "The Santaland Diaries." Rounding out the cast are Rand Bigelow, Brad Robbins, and Chad Norheim.
Audiences should be prepared to laugh, said Perseverance marketing director Ryan Odorizzi, who touts the production as "A Shakespearean 'Some Like It Hot.'"
The theatrical potential is there, the cast is enthusiastic, and the climate of Juneau is ripe for a knee-slapping, guffawing type of comedy. Will "Leading Ladies" be just the uplift that the capital city needs this time of year? It remains to be seen... but I'm feeling optimistic.
"Leading Ladies" will run from Friday, Nov. 6 until Sunday, Dec. 6 with performances Thursday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m.. There will be pay-as-you-can preview performances Nov. 1 and 4, and a matinee at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 15. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.perseverancetheatre.org/, by calling 463-TIXS or in person at Perseverance Theatre.
Michelle Fournet is a freelance writer and an arts and nature enthusiast. She can be reached at MBellaLady@gmail.com.