BWW Reviews: LETTICE AND LOVAGE in Westport
Westport Country Playhouse opened its 87th season with Peter Shaffer's delightful comedy, Lettice and Lovage. Lettice Duffet (Kandis Chappell) is a tour guide at the historic Fustian House. She claims it is "quite simply the dullest house in England" and "actually impossible to make interesting." Its claim to fame is that two things happened in its 400-year history - Queen Elizabeth I almost fell down the stairs and a young woman did fall somewhere and survived, only "to be honoured by the poor." Lettice feels it is imperative to employ her theatrical mother's motto, "Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!" She embellishes these stories more and more each time she tells them to bored tourists. All but 26 loved them.
Enter Charlotte (Lotte) Schoen (Mia Dillon), a no-nonsense bureaucrat who shows up unexpectedly to verify the complaints about inaccuracies in Lettice's imaginative tours. Lotte, of course, has to fire Lettice, but she is not totally heartless. About 10 weeks later she shows up at Lettice's basement apartment in Earl's Court with a job lead as a tour guide for a Thames boat trip and accompanying letter of recommendation. Touched, Lettice offers Lotte a cup of tea and a lovage cordial, her adaptation of a 16th century recipe made from vodka, brandy, sugar, and lovage (parsley). The two become very good friends based on their shared love of history and magnificence and disdain for England's soulless and hideous modern architecture. They meet weekly to recreate scenes from history. It sounds bizarre, but it becomes hysterically funny when things go awry. Lotte is allergic and phobic about cats, and Felina, Lettice's cat, jumps on her as Lettice is about to perform a mock execution. Lotte gets injured, and attorney Mr. Bardolph (Paxton Whitehead, reprising his role in the original Broadway production) represents Lettice on the charge for attempted murder. The case will be dismissed, and Lettice and Lotte will open a business for tourists to see the "fifty ugliest new buildings in London." They toast with lovage.
This critic saw the original Broadway production with Maggie Smith, for whom the play was written, and a marvelous one at the Westport Community Theatre, in which the role of the attorney was played by Marguerite Foster. The gender change worked well. You don't need an A-list star for the show. Lettice's inherited motto makes Lotte, Mr. Bardolph, and mousy secretary Miss Framer (Sarah Manton) thrive. That said, Shaffer's script could have delved deeper into the growing friendship of these two lonely women. The cast in the Westport Country Playhouse's production is perfect. Kudos to Chappell, who was a last-minute replacement. She has the polished talent and the right chemistry with her fellow cast members.
Mark Lamos's direction makes the play as fresh and hysterically funny as it was in 1990. John Arnone's scenic design was splendid, from the fusty Fustian House to Lotte's airless office to Lettice's theatrical tiny "dungeon" apartment. Complementing the set are Philip Rosenberg's lighting and John Gromada's sound design. Jane Greenwood's costumes were ideal for each character.