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All roads should lead to 'Leading Ladies'

Theatre in the Grove scores with cross-dressers


by: COURTESY PHOTO: TITG - Two Shakespearean actors, Jack and Leo, played by Zachary Centers (left) and Alexander Johnston, disguise themselves as women and arrive at the home of a wealthy elderly woman in search of her long-lost nieces.Despite what our cousins across the pond seem to believe, men in drag are not necessarily funny. However, put a man in a dress at Theatre in the Grove and the result is inexplicably, inevitably hilarious.

Very few mothers dream of seeing their only son cavorting around in high heels, poufy skirt and tasteful blonde pageboy, but the show’s director and proud mom Pruella Centers seems to delight in transforming son Zach into a winsome lass — at least on stage — in Theatre in the Grove’s current production of Ken Ludwig’s “Leading Ladies.”

Struggling Shakespearean actors Leo and Jack, after a catastrophic performance at a nearby Moose Lodge, end up broke on a train to York, Pa. But Leo has a plan — they will impersonate missing English heirs Max and Steve and inherit $2 million from their recently deceased “Aunt” Florence.

However, they learn from roller-skating waitress-in-training Audrey that Max and Steve are actually sisters Maxine and Stephanie. Undaunted, Leo persuades Jack to join him in raiding their costume box. They arrive at Aunt Florence’s estate attired as Cleopatra and Titania — wings and all — to claim the loot.

Rumors of Aunt Florence’s demise prove premature. Despite having been declared dead (twice!) by an exceptionally incompetent physician, she lingers on quite hardily through two acts of genuinely funny farce.

Jeanine Stassens brings a crusty wit to the role of Aunt Florence, and the scene where she pretends to die just to mess with her physician gets one of the biggest laughs of the evening. Fred Sherrill’s blustering, greedy, lascivious portrayal of Doc makes him her perfect foil.

Doc’s son Butch played by Evan Tait is even more witless, but much more likeable than his father. When forced to play in a Shakespeare scene, Tait’s character’s stage fright and rushed lines earn him several big laughs.

As Aunt Florence’s third niece, ingénue “Meg,” Dusti Arab makes the most of the relatively thankless role of the straight man. Arab is cute and spunky, and shows a lot of grit when standing up to her hypocritical fiancé, the minister Duncan, played by Dan Harry.

Harry’s performance is superbly self-righteous — a classic male chauvinist in clerical clothing, played with admirable restraint. Jeananne Kelsey as the roller-skating waitress “Audrey” is a delight, drawing on her considerable comedic skills to create a thoroughly loveable ditz.

The cross-dressing duo — Alex Johnston as Leo and Maxine and Zachary Centers as Jack and Stephanie — dominates the production from start to finish. Alex’s confident con man is Oliver Hardy to Zach’s timid Stan Laurel, and comparisons to funny men Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder would not be out of line. The pair’s comic mastery is not just a function of costume; in or out of drag these guys are astonishing comedians, and director Pruella Centers makes the most of their talent.

We cannot fail to mention the gorgeous set, brought to us by some fine carpenters and the fertile mind of multi-talented set designer Zachary Centers. The remarkable period costumes, 1950’s and Elizabethan, are brought by — wait for it — Pruella and Zachary Centers.

The show runs for two more weekends. Do yourself a favor, trek out to Forest Grove and catch this gem while you can.




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Forest Grove

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  • 21 Dec 2014

    Showers 54°F 46°F

  • 22 Dec 2014

    Cloudy 51°F 46°F