"Leading Ladies," now playing at the Collaborative Theatre Project in the Medford Center, is a nonstop riot of role reversals, romance and ridiculous lines.
A farce loosely based on the Bard’s "Twelfth Night," "Leading Ladies" has lots of physical comedy, gender bending and shrieks of surprise and outrage. A pair of traveling actors find themselves stuck in 1952 York, Pennsylvania, and seek their fortunes as the long-lost (female) heirs of an expiring matron.
The opening scenes are dense with the frustration of despair but quickly give way to the frustration and excitement of desire that carry the play. Spouting Shakespearean mash-ups throughout, Alex Boyles and Stephen Kline are terrific as they speed through costume changes.
Every female role is cast and performed superbly, hourglass figures enhanced with pointy bras and crinoline petticoats, thanks to Kayla Bush’s fine costuming. Mia Gaskin is a beauteous and naïve Meg, exquisitely dressed with sparkling eyes and glossy, dark hair. Audrey, played by Sarah Gore, is a bright beauty on roller skates, reminding the audience of her educational desires, contrasting nicely with disjointed foolishness of the play within a play. And Linda Otto as Florence is a surprise — literally — at times thought dead, often assumed daft only to awaken with a powerful shout and thunderous cane commanding the cast. These women challenge the 1950s female stereotypes with strength, vision, determination and ambition as Kline and Boyle challenge the era’s gender labels.
Stephen Kline as Maxine/Leo is a master at his roles, at times seductive, enchanting, comforting and forceful. Max’s coyly clasped hands are just hilarious at the end of Leo’s big biceps and hairy arms. Not to be outdone, Alex Boyle's huge bosoms as Stephanie are a marvel, shading a nice round belly and giving frame to something more than his 5 o’clock shadow as Jack. There’s everything outrageous and hysterical in their dress and manner, and the lavender sequins or red velvet caressing soft, manly shapes are only enhanced by thick, knee-high stockings that lose their grip and roll halfway down a hirsute calf.
"Leading Ladies" also has three wholly male roles. Nathan Monks has Rev. Duncan Wooley’s dour, righteous demeanor down — you just want to smack him, but, of course, he’s up there and you’re down here, but it’s no wonder he doesn’t get the girl in the end.
Scott Ford as Doc is particularly inept as a physician but remarkable as a sexual powerhouse, his broad body overwhelming Stephanie’s giant frame. Doc’s son and fellow Loyal Order of Moose member is the talented Nick Walker, a graduate of Southern Oregon University’s Theater Arts program, who gives a fine performance as a naive and callow youth.
The Collaborative Theatre Project opened in 2016, a new performing arts space in the Medford Center across from Tinseltown. In a profession that seems largely driven by ego, the Collaborative Theatre Project is unusual.
“We don’t have an artistic director, we have three people with different backgrounds that work together, collectively, to come up with concepts and organization components,” says founding member Obed Medina. “We focus on the work, rather than on one person’s vision.”
The Collaborative Theatre Project venue is a small and intimate space with 90 comfortable seats, tiered for a good view of the performances. There’s a gallery where a selection of Catie Faryl’s whimsical and lovely romantic period works are on display and on sale, curated by Krista Hepford. There are few textiles or other sound baffles in the theater, so screams can be overly loud when executed by actors with both passion and robust lungs. Parking and access to the theater are convenient and wheelchairs are no problem at all.
Directed by Rick Robinson, "Leading Ladies" continues at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1:30 p.m. Sundays through April 30. The play is suitable for all ages and runs about 120 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors, and are available online at ctporegon.org, by calling 541-779-1055, or at the box office.
— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.