By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
The leading ladies in Vive Les Arts Theatre's new production, "Leading Ladies," aren't ladies at all, and therein lies the fun.
Humorous commentary on religion, medicine and theater itself pepper the play, written by Ken Ludwig. The biggest laughs come from two Shakespearean actors' attempts to fool an old lady out of her inheritance by impersonating her long-lost nieces, while wooing ladies of their own on the side.
A synergy exists among the small ensemble cast, but the show's obvious star is Pfc. Chris Taylor, 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. Taylor begins the play as Leo, a down-on-his-luck actor with a scheming side, but he comes alive in his role as Maxine, or "Max," channeling Gloria Swanson and Dame Edna in ridiculous drag, eyes wild, his hands delicate and graceful.
The plot thickens as he falls for his "cousin," Meg, struggling to endear himself to her as an older sister-type while keeping his gaze at eye level.
"We should get married," he tells her, staring dreamily at her chest before catching himself.
"I mean, you should get married. Are you married?" he asks, recovering.
Copperas Cove resident Hanna Dillon is bright as Margaret, a young woman caught between desiring a pious life with her preacher fiance and a life on the stage, which Max's sudden arrival awakens in her.
Vive Les Arts director Eric Shephard does double-duty in this production, taking on the role of Leo's friend Jack and Max's mute "sister," Stephanie, or "Steve." He is downright angelic as the latter in a wig and fairy costume, which Leo and Jack play off as "British."
Shephard's wife, Erin, also appears as Audrey, the good-hearted and better-looking town bimbo who takes "Steve" under her wing as Jack surreptitiously tries to get under her skirt.
Also notable is William Selby, the theater's sometime sound technician, as Duncan, the dreadfully straight-laced town preacher who grows suspicious of Max and Steve. West Ward Elementary School principal Maureen Adams plays Florence, the old bat heiress who just won't kick the bucket.
The play is set in 1958 Pennsylvania. Eric Shephard referred to one of his favorite television shows, "Mad Men," for costume direction, he said. Indeed, the play's women - except for Max and Steve - are clad in pencil skirts, sweater sets and A-line dresses.
The estate set, with two levels, took volunteers tens of hours to build, Shephard said.
The cast had its own set of challenges, some having to master British accents and everyone having to master the physical humor so crucial to the play, he said.
Their efforts have paid off. "Leading Ladies," will elicit more than a few laughs from its audiences.
The play runs today and tomorrow at 7 p.m.; Nov. 12 and 13 at 7 p.m.; and Nov. 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets start at $15.
Call (254) 526-9090 for more information.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.
Honoring leading ladies
In conjunction with tonight's premiere of "Leading Ladies," Vive Les Arts Theatre is holding a celebration of local leading ladies in the areas of business, education, public service and volunteering, among others.
The theater asked area residents to nominate noteworthy area women earlier this fall, director Eric Shephard said.
He wasn't sure what kind of response he'd get, he said, but more than 20 names were given in two weeks. The theater will honor 14 of those women for their accomplishments during a reception before tonight's performance, and their portraits will hang in the theater's gallery all month.
Honorees include Suzi Box, Mary Gauer, Paula Lohse, Brenda Coley, Mary Kliewer, Suzi Chapman, Tammy Gilbert, Mary Barr, Shelley Wells, Jennifer Lohse-Angell, Linda Goode, Lydia Vancura and Kathy Gilmore.
The reception begins at 6 p.m. and is open to the public.