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Lettice and Lovage


Directed by Gregg W. Brevoort

Merc Playhouse



Serious Comedy
Comedy touches on truth and beauty, loneliness and alienation
By Marcy Stamper

– “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.

After several 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 Amadeus.

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.

Pappidas masters 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.

Unfortunately for 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.

Ultimately, though, 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 their relationship.

Nevertheless, 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 improbable story.

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.

Brevoort’s observation 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, call 997-PLAY.