LEADING LADIES An exceptional performance can transform unexceptional material into a winning show rarely better illustrated than with R. Christofer Sands' scintillating turn in playwright Ken Ludwig's farce. Sands plays Leo, a desperate down-and-out Shakespearean actor who along with his reluctant partner, Jack (Tim Coultas) dons women's clothes in order to masquerade as the female beneficiaries of a dying heiress. The scammers' plan to score bigtime turns tricky after they both fall in love. Leo inconveniently tumbles for the rich woman's niece, Meg (a deliciously calibrated Elaine Capogeannis), who is soon to be married; this compels him to relaunch his male persona in an effort to romance her away from her stuffy fiancé (Frank Dooley). Despite clever moments a fencing duel played out to scrambled Shakespeare the humor often lacks a fresh edge, pivoting around the familiar sight gag of a male squirming uncomfortably in female drag. Ludwig even fobs off Some Like It Hot in the power dynamic he sets up between the two tricksters. Sands, however, is so brilliantly manic, he impeccably captures the brash but conflicted con man, so that even blatantly derivative riffs translate into riotous comedy. Capogeannis and Jen Gabbert, as Jack's ebullient love interest, both hit their comic marks. Other performances are progressing at various stages. Directed by Ken Salzman, the production comes appealingly packaged with designer David Calhoun's attractive set and Lois Tedrow's smart and suitable period costumes, which range from faux Elizabethan to the 1950s. (Deborah Klugman) Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Starts: Jan. 11. Continues through Feb. 23, 2008
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