METHOW VALLEY NEWS
Comedy touches on
truth and beauty, loneliness and alienation
– “Gregg W. Brevoort, who directed The
Drawer Boy at the Merc two years ago, returns from Los Angeles to lend
his directorial vision to the production ...”
A group of tourists, complete with
cameras and Hawaiian shirts, stand yawning as tour guide Lettice Douffet
gestures dutifully towards the grand staircase in the aptly named
Fustian House, a dull British residence from the 16th century where
nothing ever took place.
mechanical recitations of the prepared text (which includes enthralling
details like the number of steps and the location of the sawmill where
they were cut), Douffet begins to embellish her talk in a desperate
attempt to capture the attention of her listeners.
Thus begins Lettice
and Lovage, Peter Shaffer’s entertaining play about truth, the
theater and the evolving relationship between two women with very
different outlooks. Shaffer is known for his plays Equus and
Jane Pappidas, in her
first role at the Merc, does a remarkable job in the difficult and
involved role of Lettice, an eccentrically theatrical woman who puts her
creativity and knowledge to unusual and comic effect.
Lettice’s effusive ardor in dramatic flights of fancy drawn from
Shakespeare and her own imagination. It is particularly entertaining to
watch her grow more animated as she embroiders her account of Fustian
House, weaving in details as they occur to her. She is like an inspired
novelist, drawing characters and adding details to delight her and her
audience. She also makes Lettice funny and sympathetic.
Lettice, her efforts to brighten her tour attract the disapproval of
Lotte Schoen (Carolanne Steinebach), the rigid personnel director of the
historic trust that manages Fustian House. As repressed and restrained
as Lettice is expansive, Steinebach expertly conveys the tension and
sour disposition of her character. She also imbues the role with
subtlety, permitting occasional glimpses of the livelier personality
beneath the surface.
One of the strengths
of Shaffer’s play is its clever language and fast-paced dialogue. It is
also interesting to watch the affection between Lettice and Lotte grow
as they discover mutual interests and their suspicions ease.
Lettice and Lovage is more of a farce and a vehicle for the actors
and linguistic agility than a deep exploration of the characters and
Lettice and Lovage touches on some serious ideas, such as the
meaning of authenticity and of beauty. It also provides a window into
loneliness and alienation, particularly for people who, whether because
of age or interests, feel left behind by society and the pace of change.
In addition to
Pappidas and Steinebach, there are other smaller roles. Lotte’s
secretary, well played by Renda Grim, who, after many roles in community
theater productions, is making her Merc debut. Grim lends a sensitivity
to Miss Framer’s anxious efforts to please her stern boss.
In the third act,
Damon Abdallah plays a proper English lawyer who sheds his exasperation
as he warms to the enthusiasm with which the women relay their somewhat
The bored tourists are
played by Aristides Pappidas, Kathleen Chavey-Reynaud and Grim. Jeremy
Lindholm plays a suspicious Elizabethan scholar.
Gregg W. Brevoort, who
directed The Drawer Boy at the Merc two years ago, returns from
Los Angeles to lend his directorial vision to the production. In his
program notes, Brevoort writes insightfully that the two plays “revolve
around the theatrical imagination and storytelling - and how the burdens
and troubles of our world, whether societal or personal, can be assuaged
or even remedied by … well, the theatre.”
As has come to be
expected of the Merc’s productions, the sets are effective, making
economical use of a few symbolic props. In particular, Lettice’s
basement apartment, which we first encounter in the second act, helps us
appreciate her quirks with a prominent coat of arms, theatrical posters
and masks, and a collection of scabbards.
Lettice’s colorful and
flowing tunics are wearable art compared with Lotte’s dowdy suits,
reinforcing the stylistic differences between the two women.
is an apt one for the play: “The need to tell stories is an ancient
drive, one that brings us all together.”
Lettice and Lovage
continues at the Merc Playhouse through August 30, Wednesdays through
Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
For more information,