Steel Beam’s ‘Ladies’ is not all it seems to be
By Annie Alleman For Sun-Times Media May 10, 2012 4:24PM
The “Leading Ladies” cast includes Cynthia Fortune Gruel as Meg and Plamen Pencheff as Leo. | Courtesy of Steel Beam Theatre
♦ May 11-June 3
♦ Steel Beam Theatre, 111 W. Main Street, St. Charles
♦ Tickets, $25-$23
♦ (630) 587-8521
The Steel Beam Theatre in St. Charles closes out its season with a slapstick comedy that’s a little bit Shakespeare and a little bit “Bosom Buddies.”
The comedy “Leading Ladies” will be presented at 8 p.m. May 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26 and June 1 and 2; and at 3 p.m. May 13, 20, 27 and June 3.
Written by Ken Ludwig, author of “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon over Buffalo,” “Leading Ladies” is the story of two actors named Jack and Leo who try to take advantage of a wealthy widow by pretending to be her long-lost relatives. Unbeknownst to them, the relatives are women. “Leading Ladies” is directed by Bernie K. Weiler of Aurora.
“It is about as much fun as you can possibly have in a theater,” he said. “It is a really inventive, fun play. It involves two down-on-their-luck actors who read in the paper that a wealthy, aged woman is about to leave her estate to her niece for lack of the ability to find two long-lost children of her sister. So the two actors decide to pose as these two long-lost what they believe to be nephews, whose names were Max and Steve. But it turns out that Max and Steve were actually Maxine and Stephanie.
“They’re still going to give it a shot, so these two actors pose as women for the purpose of insinuating themselves on the good graces of this soon-to-be benefactor,” he said.
“There’s a great deal of misidentification and mis-delivered letters, amorous attractions from very unlikely sources. And it’s a great deal of fun. We have a wonderful cast who pulls it off fabulously. I think it will be a lot of fun to watch.”
It involves a lot of Shakespearean references, as Jack and Leo are Shakespearean actors. It also incorporates some of the plot lines of “Twelfth Night.”
Weiler was familiar with Ken Ludwig and the play, and he thought it would a fun show to close out the season.
“It’s very popular and it really is something that if people want to just have a good time and see some good actors having fun with a piece of work, this is the thing to see,” he said. “We like to have a fast-moving, farcical piece of work that is just really beautifully written as well. There’s a lot to it.”
Another twist is that the actors fall in love with a pair of local ladies, including the niece they are trying to swindle. Since they are committed to being Maxine and Stephanie and still want to pursue their other interests, they change back and forth.
“Whenever somebody leaves the room, you never know who’s going to return,” he said. “It takes some pretty good actors to pull that off and we found the exact right people to do that.”
This all takes place in York, Pa. The actors have just had a disastrous performance at the Moose Lodge when they read about the dilemma.
The niece, Meg, who would inherit the entire estate if it weren’t for Stephanie and Maxine, is actually very happy that her cousins have come forward. Meg is engaged to the local minister, who would rather see the inheritance go to Meg (because he wants the money for his own foundation.) So he does what he can to interfere with the actors’ plans because he suspects that they are frauds, Weiler said.
“There are all kinds of funny intrigue going on,” he said. “It’s a very funny play and there’s something in it for everybody. It’s a fun piece and there’s something going on every minute of the play that is interesting and funny. And we have actors who are very funny people.”
“The Leading Ladies” cast includes Matthias Austin of Wheaton as Duncan; Leo Kalisz of Antioch as Doc; Tony Lage of West Chicago as Jack; Grant Legan of Geneva as Butch; Plamen Pencheff of Lindenhurst as Leo; Cynthia Fortune Gruel as Meg; Lori Holm as Florence and Jennifer Reeves-Wilson as Audrey, all of Batavia.