Front Row Center – March 2020

Front Row Center

By Michael Warren

Lettice and Lovage

By Peter Shaffer
Directed by Peter King (at Bravo!)

front row

 

This humorous play was written by Peter Shaffer in 1987, specifically for Maggie Smith who originated the lead role of “Lettice Douffet.” Here at the Bravo! theater, we had visiting actress Vanessa McCaffrey giving us a sparkling performance as the extraordinary and extrovert Lettice.

The opening scenes feature Lettice as a tour guide at historic Fustian Hall. Nothing of note has ever happened at the Hall, though Queen Elizabeth l is supposed to have slept there on one occasion. So Lettice enlivens the tour by exaggerating the drama of certain events. This delights the tourists and helps Lettice as she solicits their tips at the end of the tour. “Lotte Schoen,” who is the Administrator for the Preservation Trust which owns the building, appears on one of Lettice’s tours and is outraged by her fanciful embellishment of historical facts. The next day Lettice is summoned to Lotte’s office, and is fired.

Monnie King plays Lotte with some skill, presenting her initially as rigid and humorless, and then warming her up as the play progresses. And Peggy Lord Chilton offers a delightful cameo as “Miss Framer” who is Lotte’s ancient secretary. Subsequent scenes take place in Lettice’s London basement flat, which contains the remains of theatrical scenery. There is also a cat which plays an important role in the play. I really enjoyed Vanessa McCaffrey’s interpretation of Lettice – it would be so easy to overact the role, but she is simply herself and lets the author’s very entertaining dialogue do the work.

In the second Act, Lotte feels guilty about firing Lettice and comes to visit her with the intention of finding her a new job. The two gradually become friends, especially after drinking Lettice’s potent homemade Lovage wine. They share a common interest in English history, and reenact key moments including the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. At this point Peter King appears as “Mr Bardolph,” who is a court-appointed lawyer.

It appears that Lettice is accused of attempted murder, as the execution scene was too realistic. Peter King is suitably confused and also a bit pompous, in fact a typical British lawyer. I enjoyed this very well-written play, though the ending was rather strange, as the two ladies embark on a celebration of architectural ugliness. It is true that for a while in Britain there was a fashion for very ugly buildings – the mantra was “Form Follows Function” and some hideous concrete structures appeared on the scene. No doubt Peter Shaffer agreed with Prince Charles that this was a big mistake.

Thanks to Bravo! for providing this delightful entertainment. I congratulate director Peter King and all the cast and crew. I should also mention the ingenious set design by Dana Douin. Margo Eberly was Stage and House Manager. The next show in March at Bravo! is “The Book of Will” by Lauren Gunderson, which tells the story of how two aging actors saved the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays.

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