Sunday, March 4, 2012

Leading Ladies (Repertory Philippines)


Leo Clark (James Stacey) and Jack Gable (Topper Fabregas) are two Shakespearean actors who just could not seem to get their big break. Penniless and without any fresh ideas, they hop on a train to nowhere trying to figure out what to do next, which they are able to do when Leo reads about an old woman named Florence (Juno Henares) looking for her sister’s two children, Max and Steve, who moved to England as kids, and whom she plans to include in her inheritance worth around three million dollars. The idea is to pretend to be the two long lost nephews until they find out that the two are actually nieces whose real names are Maxine and Stephanie. Out of desperation, they still go ahead with the plan, in drag, obviously. Will their disguise be enough to fool theater-loving cousin Meg (Cris Villonco) and fiancé Duncan (Jamie Wilson), who is also after the family money?

To be totally honest, I have never had such a hilarious non-musical comedy experience. Mounting a comedy without song and dance is pretty hard to do if the material is weak. Having actors come out in drag is also tricky because everything could be awkwardly annoying if they do not pull it off properly. Luckily, Leading Ladies is simply a riot. What hilarity other comedies bring about through punch lines and improvisation, they deliver here with funny one-liners and insane scenarios complete with costumes that simply bring the house down.

The living room set is just so detailed that it looks so real, kind of reminiscent of what they use for The Sound of Music. It took me a couple of minutes to wonder how they would introduce the other sets with the absence of revolving panels. It turns out they just draw the red curtains and toss in a few props for the few scenes set outside that living room.

I seldom acknowledge a theater actor’s acting prowess unless he is Miguel Faustmann or Felix Rivera. It is just that most of the time the women tend to overshadow their male counterparts that I usually just go gaga over the lead actress’ performance and remain silent about the leading man. For this show it has to be the other way around. The tandem of Stacey and Fabregas is hard to snub and I just have to give them the credit they deserve.

Stacey is hilarious because of the mismatch between the face and the dress, the Julie Andrews accent, and the way he delivers his lines. Fabregas is funny because of his mannerisms and gestures both as Stephanie the deaf mute and the Stephanie who talks. He also wears more dresses matched with that Annie wig, which is plain hysterical. The costumes alone are enough to leave you gasping for air, but of course they still have their dialogues on top of everything. These two are really the ones to thank for this wonderful comedy.

While Villonco’s character is not the funniest of the bunch, she still keeps the audience entertained both through the character’s naivety (for lack of better term) and through her portrayal of the role. The accent is spot on. Her southern drawl makes it seem as if she jumped straight out of a movie from classic Hollywood, and the accent is still evident when the character attempts to throw her lines as a newbie actress in a Shakespearean play. Consistent. Giannina Ocampo as Audrey does not lag behind and also gets a lot of laughs because of her character, who is adorably, uhm, slow? Same goes with Henares as Aunt Florence. Her scenes are not that plenty but are a hit all the time.

Favorite scenes? Stephanie’s seduction scene with Duncan and the chase scene with the doctor after that. I think everyone in the audience was already dying from asphyxiation by the time she rushes in with leaves and twigs all over. One thing to note about this play though is that there are many hilarious scenes but they seem to be of varying degrees of comedy and spread evenly within two hours, which gives the audience time to recuperate before they are hit with another big one. Or maybe what I am trying to say is that this play is simply well-paced without any dragging parts, which benefits the plot quite well.

Highly recommended. Too bad today was the last run. Looks like Repertory is in for an awesome season. Just two plays and I am already amused, not to mention Jekyll and Hyde which starts playing soon. Awesome.

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