Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Lettice and Lovage"

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note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Carl A. Rossi


"LETTICE AND LOVAGE"

by Peter Shaffer
directed by John Fogle

Lettice Douffet … Diane Lind
Lotte Schoen … Barbara Dempsey-West
Miss Framer / Visitor … Vicki Righettini
Mr. Bardolph / Visitor … Nathan Meyers
Surly Man / Visitor … Shawn Maguire
Visitor to Fustian House … Allison Russell
Visitor to Fustian House … Ruth Neeman
Visitor to Fustian House … Jon Sachs
Visitor to Fustian House … Nicolas Neyeloff
Visitor to Fustian House … Erin Boyle
Visitor to Fustian House … Amy Brown

If you saw the original Broadway production of LETTICE AND LOVAGE --- and I did --- you might be disappointed with the Quannapowitt Playhouse taking a crack at it --- or any other theatre company, for that matter. As any school child will tell you, Peter Schaeffer wrote his cerebral comedy specifically for Dame Maggie Smith --- i.e., a vehicle --- and said child will also inform you that a vehicle is a showcase to display its Star at what he or she does best; in this case, Ms. Smith’s bright, dotty way with a line; she received critical valentines and a Tony Award for her troubles. Ms. Smith turned LETTICE AND LOVAGE into an Event; any succeeding actress taking on the role of Lettice Douffet, a British eccentric who embroiders and glorifies the past while ignoring the present, can only hope, at best, to turn an extended sketch into a play, which Quannpowitt’s Diane Lind has done rather well --- in her hands, LETTICE AND LOVAGE becomes a warm-hearted comedy-drama; the audience’s laughter, when it sounds, is mellow, thoughtful --- they are reacting to the situations rather than the leading lady turning this way and that to reap their admiration.

I was entertained, of course, by Ms. Smith --- who wouldn’t be? --- but afterwards I felt I had spent the evening with a charming hostess who kept pouring drinks to delay the fact that dinner would not be served, after all. Ms. Lind gives us a character, instead; her Lettice is a lonely old woman who, like Blanche du Bois, wants magic and not realism in her remaining years. By grounding her performance in rather dreary circumstances, Ms. Lind makes Lettice’s quixotic escapades noble and ennobling and Ms. Lind plays her without a drop of self-pity (I would like to see her side-step to Countess Aurelia, Giradoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot). She is well paired with Barbara Dempsey-West whose Lotte Schoen is a cold-eyed burrowing owl with the ghastliest of wigs. Ms. Dempsey-West must transform herself from “executioner” to Sancho Panza with a few chugs of Lettice’s quaff; Ms. Dempsey-West accomplishes this by melting only so far as a stern, repressed woman can melt, i.e., devoted but guarded. Nathan Meyers, a newcomer to the area, is properly snooty as the milquetoast swayed to see life through Lettice’s rose-colored spectacles.

Aside from Lotte’s soap-opera lurches about the set, John Fogle’s direction is gentle and unobtrusive, allowing the Mss. Lind and Dempsey-West to expand upon their characterizations (the Broadway production, as I remember, was “mere”-ly slick and shiny) --- playwrights would feel safe with their scripts in Mr. Fogle's hands --- and designer Ruth Neeman’s uses for a particular flight of stairs drew applause in and of itself.

"Lettice and Lovage" (16 April-8 May)
QUANNAPOWITT PLAYHOUSE
55 Hopkins Street, READING, MA
1 (781) 942-2212

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide

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