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Curtains: Mesa Encore Theatre's Leading Ladies

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No one really doubts that professional entertainers are as maddeningly human as the rest of us. Nevertheless, the nostalgic farces of contemporary playwright Ken Ludwig mine comic gold from pondering that mystery. Typically, two groups of characters bump both literally and figuratively into each other: talented, worn-out, disillusioned "stars" and the earnest, art-loving, starstruck people with whom they long to exchange lives, even if only for a night.

Leading Ladies, one of Ludwig's newest, is brand-new to the community theater circuit. The relative unfamiliarity of the title may be (along with "the economy, stupid") putting a dent in Mesa Encore Theatre's ticket sales. But hustle yourself out there this final weekend, because the production is a hilarious, solidly produced, no-holds-barred romp.

It's 1950-something. We're in York, Pennsylvania, a quiet place, not far from Liz Lemon's home town of White Haven, but not even that much fun. No Hillary Clinton knocking back boilermakers here, either.

Women dream of college education and world travel but settle for carhopping and waiting to marry bland local guys. There's lots of wacky-yet-motivated cross-dressing, designed, along with the rest of the ensemble's costumes, to yummy perfection by powerhouse Katherine Stewart, who also happens to be directing, designing sound, and playing the actual leading lady (the one with two X chromosomes).

You'll be reminded of some of the plot's obvious influences right away: not just Ludwig's own previous hits, but classics like Charley's Aunt, Some Like It Hot, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Tootsie. (And not-so-classics: Bosom Buddies, for example.) Then there's Twelfth Night, the play-within-the-deception-within-the-play, another piece of evidence that Ludwig is officially channeling Shakespeare's over-the-top spirit of madcappery, in my opinion.

What really rocks my world here, beyond stunning physical comedy and being allowed to take my drink to my seat, is that this script (and the company's terrific work) makes life, the world, even Pennsylvania as sexy as they really are but much sexier than something written half a century ago for the mainstream stage could typically have gotten away with. And romantic to boot. That's my new favorite reason I'm so glad Ludwig does exactly what he does.

Get thee to a comedy! Leading Ladies continues through Sunday, September 20, at Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street. Tickets are $20 to $25; call 480-644-6500, or order here.

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