Is there a cross-dresser in every man just dying to leap out and into some lacy outfit: Maybe so.
The Elks Club members at the heart of Jordan Harrison's modest play "Act a Lady," set in a Midwestern town during those frustrated days of Prohibition, leap at the chance to perform in drag during a charity event.
What happens next, on and off the stage, adds up to a wry theatrical evening, as confirmed by the local premiere of "Act a Lady," courtesy of Iron Crow Theatre Company. The ensemble, known for edgy repertoire and any amount of nudity and adult content, seems to be having a ball going the PG route this time at the Theatre Project.
Harrison creates a wacky outlet for the acting bug-bitten Elks -- bored shopkeeper Miles; hard-drinking, woman-chasing True; and young Casper, who seems ever so confused about that little matter of sexual orientation.
To the horror of Dorothy, Miles' religion- and accordion-clutching wife, these three men aren't about to don just any old "fancy-type, women-type clothes," but the fanciest. The show they will star in is a bosom-heaving, 18th-century French melodrama.
Dorothy cannot fathom what this is all about, except for the fact that the devil must be somehow behind it. But she still can't keep from getting involved, if only to see for herself just how decadent things might get.
We're not talking Ibsen here, but, in his own engaging way, Harrison manages to paint some pretty vivid characters while digging into matters of identity and duty, desires and dreams. His language can be quite effective, too. (It's kind of cool to hear a contemporary playwright use the word "glister.")
The play-within-the-play does not always weave deftly into the proceedings. And, in the second act, the attempt to psychoanalyze the characters using a sort of alter ego for each does not entirely click (it does mean, though, that everyone in the piece gets a chance to cross-dress).
Ultimately, "Act a Lady" boils down to very old, but ever-valuable, lessons about finding yourself and being open to what you find. It may take a little longer than necessary to get to this message, but it's an entertaining trip.
Juanita Rockwell directs the Iron Crow staging with a sure touch, aided by Daniel Ettinger's charmingly old-fashioned and easily shifted scenery. Julie Heneghan's costumes deliver the drag in vibrant style.
Gina Braden gives a fun performance as the stern Dorothy. The actress seems nervous with the musical demands of the role (singing is required, as well as the accordion playing), but she gets that job done. If Steven J. Satta-Fleming is rather generic and too soft-spoken as pre-spotlight Miles, he adds in lots of color and spice as an increasingly loony Lady Romola in the big show.
Steve Sawicki's True rings, well, true from the get-go. He's got a subtle comic streak that makes the character endearing, both in and out of dresses. Alec Weinberg does a sweet turn as Casper, neatly capturing the character's immerson from the shell.
As Zina, the exotic and demanding woman in pants who directs the Elks' play, Julie Herber delivers confident, nuanced work. And Caitlyn Joy shines brightly as Lorna, the makeup artist who knows the secrets of Hollywood and a few things about love. A thoroughly endearing portrayal.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun