By Peter Shaffer
Directed by Steve Scott
At Redtwist Theatre
“Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!” – Lettice Douffet’s motto for living
Two excellent performances render many laughs in Lettice and Lovage
Under Steve Scott’s flowing direction, Millicent Hurley is wonderful as the wacky former thespian, Lettice Douffet, turned tour guide and Jan Ellen Graves is a hoot as the straight-laced Lotte Schoen, the bored administrator. Redtwist Theatre’s Lettice and Lovage is a star vehicle for the actor brave enough to tackle the crazy Lettice character. Millicent Hurley is fabulous in that role.
Lettice and Lovage is Peter Schaffer’s (Equus, Amadeus, The Royal Hunt of the Sun) 1987 Tony Award winning comedy written for Meggie Smith. Following Schaffer’s dominant theme: the visionary versus the mediocre, only this time being played out by two middle aged women, Schaffer utilizes a farcical comedic motif as he introduces us to the flamboyant Lettice Douffet, a most memorable character. Essentially, Lettice and Lovage is a funny look at coming to terms with the modern world by two kindred spirits trapped by their imaginations and their social-economic status. They form a special friendship that allows them to cope with their dreary lives after initially being quite hostile toward one another.
We meet Lettice as she embellishes her tour narrative because Fustian House in Britain was so bland that her tourist was so bored that she invented unique stories to spice up her tours. These scenes set the comic tone and give us a clue into Lettice’s vivid imagination. When Lotte Schoen, sent by the Preservation Trust to investigate Lettice’s fictional transgressions, she was not amused and promptly fires Lettice. But Lotte’s quiet passion for history and her deep-seated need for excitement draws her to the eccentric, showy former Shakespearian actress. Lotte is enticed by the romantic world view Lettice projects and an unlikely friendship emerges as the two discover that they have a common view of the gray, dreary modern world that neither cherishes. Both realize, especially through the influence of Lettice’s herbal brew, “Lovage,” that their imagination may be their best remedy to deal with the cold contemporary world. Playing out their imagination through theatrical reenactments of history is their buffer against reality.
This smart comedy is a taxing role for both leading characters. Millicent Hurley’s over-the-top manic exuberance and splashy dramatic speech patterns (in fine British accent) that emotionally present the zany yet lovable Lettice. Hurley is hilarious as a bohemian artsy traditionalist. Hurley throws herself with ravish into each scene. She mesmerizes us with her deeply vulnerable performance. With loads of heart, Hurley’s Lettice becomes a most dazzlingly memorable character. We cheer for her.
Jan Ellen Graves, as the stiff, emotionally suppressed bureaucrat, Lotte Schoen, early on hints of a complex character yearning for excitement and adventure in her life. She is attracted to Lettice’s imaginative world. Graves truthfully peals away Lotte’s seemingly bland personality to reveal a soul ready for excitement. Graves’ comedic style both plays off and sets up Hurley and/or adds funny double takes thus adding more humor. Maura Kidwell, as Lotte’s secretary and Jim Morley, as Bardolph added some humor in support.
Each of the three acts have wacky plots twists as we see a unique middle-aged female buddy play out as an intelligent contemporary comedy of manners—one filled with perceptive ideas and social commentary. You’ll love Millicent Hurley and Jan Ellen Graves as the two very British women seeking some fun. Good writing and passionate characters living out their imaginations equals terrific theatre. Lettice and Lovage is a hit. It is clever and hilarious.
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7429, www.redtwist.org, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 & 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with 2 intermissions.