VTC

Melissa Dunlap (Meg) and Blake Gouhari (Leo).

It’s not only the titular “Leading Ladies” who are having a blast in Vienna Theatre Company’s (VTC) production of Ken Ludwig’s 2014 romantic farce.

During opening weekend performances, the eight cast members and the audience were clearly delighted with the mayhem of the Tony and Helen Hayes award-winning playwright’s story of a pair of down-on-their-luck Shakespearean male actors scheming to acquire a fortune by pretending to be – and comically dressing up as – the rightful female heirs.

Director Eleanore Tapscott aptly described “Leading Ladies” as “a rollicking mash-up of ‘Twelfth Night’ – one of my favorite Shakespearean comedies – and the brilliant film, ‘Some Like it Hot,’ with a dollop of ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ or ‘Charley’s Aunt’ thrown in for good measure.”

“Leading Ladies” is the first production the Reston resident has directed for VTC, but her credentials are substantial. Tapscott studied theatre at the University of California at Berkeley and graduated from the New York City-based National Shakespeare Conservatory training program. Her directorial debut occurred when she was a part of an off-off-Broadway theatre company that performed only classical plays: “A scheduled play did not have a director and I said I would direct it – and I've been directing ever since,” she said.

Her directing credits locally have included plays for Aldersgate Church Community Theatre, Little Theatre of Alexandria, Reston Community Players, The Arlington Players and Port City Playhouse. She has worked with five of the eight “Leading Ladies” cast members in other productions.

“This cast has been a delight to work with, and they most certainly are a talented and cohesive group,” the director said – despite the challenges of “ensuring sufficient time for the dance and fight choreography in addition to the regular rehearsal” and “rehearsing a winter slot show” with all the holidays “to factor into the schedule.”

“Farce requires such precision in the timing, and that is only achieved by repetition,” she noted.

Melissa Dunham, who plays Meg Snider, has a dance background, but has been doing community theatre for eight years – with VTC as well as other local theatre companies. Her experience in another Ludwig show, she said, gave her a familiarity “with how he paces a show and the rhythm of his farces.”

Dunham identifies with her character. “Meg is in love with theater, which is a trait we share, so that has been an easy aspect to develop. I’ve tried to help the audience see Meg become her own woman and fight for what and who she loves. Along the way, there are many laughs, which make the show such fun to perform.”

This is the second VTC show for Blake Gouhari, who plays actor Leo Clark and his female persona, Maxine. “On and off” through the years, the area native has appeared in productions for Montgomery College, Adventure Theatre, the DC Fringe Festival and The Washington Savoyards. “I've really rediscovered how much I love theatre over the last couple of years,” he said. “I'm enjoying this role tremendously. It's just so ridiculous and so much fun to play – way outside my usual comfort zone, but I've enjoyed the challenge!”

He, too, finds his character compatible. “I'm a bit like Leo in some ways, though not quite so devious. I'm playing a bit of myself in him. The inspiration for Maxine is actually a cross between a family member I have … and Mrs. Doubtfire.”

Actor Scott Stofko takes on the role of the other half of the Shakespearean actor duo – Jack Gable and his female counterpart, Stephanie. The Fairfax resident has been “doing community and non-union theater locally for the past four years, learning as I go.”

“I'm all too familiar with Ludwig's brand of humor,” Stofko said. “It's right up my alley.” He is making his character in “Leading Ladies” his own, he said, “by being as genuine as humanly possible. Also, by being very, very sexy.”

Director Tapscott is confident about what “Leading Ladies” audiences are in for. “The audience can expect to laugh a lot, learn that Shakespeare is totally and completely accessible,” she said, “and that theatre is, if I may quote the Bard himself, 'O, wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping.’”

The Vienna Theatre Company presents “Leading Ladies” at 8 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24 and 31, and Saturday, Jan. 25 and Feb. 1; 2 p.m., Sunday Feb. 2 at the Vienna Community Center, 120 Cherry St. SE., Vienna. General admission tickets, $15, may be purchased in advance at VCC or by cash, credit card or check at the door before each performance if still available. For more information, visit www.viennatheatrecompany.org.

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