Experienced acting, colorful costumes and an intimate stage align audience and cast for Ken Ludwig's corny comedy 'Leading Ladies' 

Leading Ladies
7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, Through Sept. 25
Carpenter Square Theatre
Bricktown Hotel & Convention Center
2001 E. Reno
$18, $15 military/seniors/advance students

Carpenter Square Theatre lost its home "? and much of its costumes, furniture and props stock "? when the June 14 deluge flooded its Stage Center home. With several theatrical companies in the city, theater space is scarce here, so CST scrambled to find a venue for its current season.

It's a pleasure to report that CST is back in business in the ballroom of the Bricktown Hotel & Convention Center, and the company's board of directors and staff should be congratulated heartily for making the best of a bad situation.

This new space is acoustically suitable, and the seat-numbing, straight-back chairs and poor sight lines remind one of CST's first home in the old Carpenter Paper Co. warehouse on Robert S. Kerr (near where the Oklahoma County Jail now stands), except the hotel's ballroom is much nicer and thankfully air-conditioned.

CST is advertising seven of its eight plays this season as comedies, and no one should begrudge them for it. After what they have been through, maybe a some comedy is called for right now, although it should be noted for the record that lineup was planned long before the waters.

The first comedy pulled from CST's bag of trickery is the farce "Leading Ladies" by Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor"). As you might expect, the titular leading ladies are actually men, two incompetent Shakespearean actors from England named Leo Clark and Jack Gable. Get it? Clark and Gable. Clark Gable.

They're traveling through rural Pennsylvania when they stumble upon an opportunity to steal part of an old lady's estate by claiming to be her long-lost nephews. They soon find out, however, that the long-lost nephews are really long-lost nieces. They raid the costume trunk and show up in York as the nieces, dressed remarkably like the Shakespearean characters Cleopatra and Titania. The actors become involved in various ways with the locals, but let's just say that in the end, love conquers all.

"Leading Ladies" contains many of the standard plot devices: convenient coincidence, misunderstood intentions, bungled deception and quite a bit of the usual, corny Ludwigian humor.

Director Rhonda Clark has assembled a fine cast of well-known and experienced actors for the production, performed in Robert Pittenridge's colorful costumes. The reliable Mike Waugh and Brett Young play Clark and Gable. You can't help but like James Tyra as Doc Myers, the town physician and resident curmudgeon.

And Michael Gibbons is spot-on as the parsimonious pastor and betrothed of Meg Snider (Michelle Swink), who stands to inherit $3 million from her aunt's estate. Ludwig sets the play in 1958, so $3 million is not just walking-around money "? it's worth cheating someone out of.

Is "Leading Ladies" a great play or even a great farce? Well, no, of course not, but the intimate ballroom gives the audience a sort of impromptu camaraderie with the cast that takes us back to CST's nascency.

above Holly McNatt, Brett Young and Mike Waugh star in "Leading Ladies." "?Larry Laneer

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