Playwright: Barbara Lhota. At: Babes With Blades at Lincoln Square in the Berry Methodist Church, 4754 N. Leavitt St. Phone: 773-904-0391; $20, Runs through: Sept. 24
Listen up, kidshere's your premise: It's 1940 and, in support of women's contribution to the war effort (Rosie the Riveter, don't ya know?), Broadway producer Saul Bloomfield is financing a modern-day production of Cyrano de Bergeracwith Roxane fighting alongside her beloved men at the frontthat he hopes Warner Brothers will consider for a possible movie. To that end, he has assembled a bevy of Hollywood personalities, among them a female fencing master whose younger sister has, coincidentally, been hired to stunt-double for the leading lady.
Welcome to the world of screwball comedy! Barbara Lhota's homage to the film classics of this romantic genre adheres to formula with a plot encompassing elements of the backstage-intrigue scenario (lecherous leading men, temperamental divas, etc.), the class-differences scenario (stage vs. cinematic acting styles) and no less than three pairs of lovers unsure of their affectionsespecially two young women, initially enamored of the same man, who find themselves increasingly drawn to one another. Lhota's cupid being an equal-opportunity facilitator, everyone eventually gets what they want.
Oh, but not until an escalating series of complications have threatened to scuttle the best-laid plans of sweethearts and show biz. Will ex-spouses Charles Fontaine and Rosalind Rollins (the latter played by Lisa Herceg in full Rosalind-you-know-who drag) reunite? Will onscreen villain George Hall overcome his shyness and profess his passion for his feisty swordmistress? Will childhood companions Minnie Sparks and Olivia Wood acknowledge their mutual attraction and come up with a scheme for preserving their careers guaranteeing their likewise lavender swain safety as well? Will the West Coast moguls applaud the experimental Cyrano and make everybody rich?
Lhota's dialogue for this Babes With Blades production crackles with rat-a-tat authenticity (despite being sometimes blurred by its church-basement acoustics), while Leigh Barrett's direction keeps the pace crisp and high-stepping. The athletic cast combines precision comic timing and unflagging agilityDid I mention Alison Dornheggen's swing-dance numbers?to fulfill the demands of this period romcom. Theatergoers dismissing the Babes With Blades as a stunt troupe instead of a bona fide theater company are advised to re-assess their assumptions, even as they thrill to Libby Beyreis' dazzlingand hilariousclimactic swordplay scene featuring BWB founding member Kathrynne Wolf swinging steel in the role of the entire attacking Spanish army! How can you pass up spectacle like that?