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BWW Reviews: LETTICE AND LOVAGE at Quotidian Theatre Co.


Why let the boring old truth stand in the way of a compelling story? Lettice Douffet lives her life by a code her flamboyant actress mother taught her: "Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!" She eschews "the mere" - the regular, tedious, mundane, or mediocre in life. Lettice and Lovage contrasts dreamer and free spirit Lettice Douffet with bureaucrat Lotte Schoen, a rigid realist. Despite their differences the two find commonality and camaraderie.

Quotidian Theatre - theatre dedicated to the poetry of everyday life, no-frills storytelling, and realistic situations and dialogue - brings us Peter Shaffer's witty clash of opposites ultimately finding solidarity.

Playwright Peter Shaffer (who also penned Equus and Amadeus) wrote Lettice and Lovage specifically for Maggie Smith. Any of us who has opted for "just one more" episode of Downton Abbey knows that Dame Maggie can mesmerize an audience for three hours or more. But a three hour production is a hefty commitment even for a true fan of live theatre - and this is not a classical drama with an epic battle scene or a lavish musical theatre with a flashy production number. It is three hours of conversation. The Quotidian Theatre production would benefit from tucks, trims, and efficiency, especially in the first act. In particular, a scheduled five minute pause between scenes to change one basic interior set to another is very unfortunate; a more minimal set and speedy changeover would have kept up the momentum of the piece and helped tighten the show.

The cast are given wonderful dialogue to celebrate and they are up for the task. Jane Squire Bruns as Miss Lettice Douffet is the heart of the production. From the first when she embellishes successive tours of the stodgy and boring Fustian House we are solidly rooting for her verve and imagination. But soon she is called on the carpet by Preservation Trust administrator Miss Charlotte Schoen for taking liberties with the approved script. Leah Mazade as Lotte delivers a multidimensional and complicated character. Soon we discover a love of architecture and perhaps the heart of an anarchist as the two begin to build bridges. The actors have a lovely give-and-take as we see the relationship develop.

Elizabeth Darby as Miss Framer, Miss Schoen's flighty, young assistant, lightens the scene and provides welcome humor. Similarly, John Decker as Lettice's solicitor Mr. Bardolph (selected by Lettice for his Shakespearean name) soon adds to the hilarity, particularly with his pum-tititi-pum drumbeats. The gaggle of tourists portrayed by Ruthie Rado, Elizabeth Darby, David Johnson and John Decker are great fun.

Set and prop designers John Decker and Jack Sbarbori make shrewd use of basic projections to give an American audience a quick lesson in British history and architecture that gives context to the play. Additionally, the projections serve as key portions of Fustian House including its referenced grand staircase. Don Slater designed the lights; Nick Sampson and Louis Pangaro designed the sound. Cast and crew contributed to the other design elements.

Director Louis Pangaro, who has strong roots in the classics, directed the production, toying with what happens when an irresistible force meets and immovable object. While Shaffer's script is over-long without a Dame Maggie Smith at the helm, Pangaro guides us to find both the backbone and vulnerability in the characters.

Runtime: three hours with one intermission

Lettice and Lovage runs through May 17 with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. The production is at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, Bethesda, MD 20815. For tickets, please visit the theatre's website here.

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