ENLARGE, ENLIVEN AND enlighten are the three E's tenaciously sought after by Miss Lettice Douffet, flamboyant tour guide and history enthusiast. Although, if history does not provide enough enlightenment, Lettice is prone to enlarge and enliven the historical facts. I would add one more E to her list: entertain.
In Invisible Theatre's production of Peter Shaffer's 1987 play, Lettice and Lovage, we first meet Lettice as she herds a small group of listless tourists through yet another dull tour of Fustian House in Wiltshire, England. (Yes, old chap, another play full of that offbeat British humor, but nobody pulls it off better than IT.) Weary of the dispassionate speech she delivers time after time, she begins to embellish, just a little--a bit here, a bit there--nothing too drastic. But by the time Lotte Schoen, big cheese in charge of historical tours at the Preservation Trust, shows up, the Fustian House has become the historical scene of miraculous deeds and tragic mishaps.
Backed with letters from enthusiastic tourists, Lettice argues she has simply improved the once lackluster tour of the historical house where absolutely nothing happened, telling Lotte, "fantasy floods in where fact leaves a vacuum." But Lotte buys none of her theatrics, and after one last dramatic scene from Lettice, Lotte pushes her out the door to join the ranks of the unemployed. However, Lettice's flair for the sensational touches a deeply buried passion in the repressed Miss Schoen, stuck behind her "non-doers desk" dressed in her sensible clothing.
Ten weeks later, when Lotte shows up at Lettice's basement flat with job information and a letter of reference, Lettice rebukes her saying, "How peculiar to push one in the gutter and toy with pulling them out." But an uncommon friendship develops between the two, fertilized by a shared hatred of the ugliness of today's world--for Lotte, the ugliness is a visual one, found in the uninspired architecture of the 20th century; for Lettice, the ugliness is found in the mundane and mediocre. Together, they explore and relive the spectacular periods of history--with a peculiar penchant for executions--and in the process, free themselves from the "mere."
Lettice (which she points out "as a vegetable it is obviously one of God's mistakes, but as a name, I think it passes") is winsomely played by Glenda Young, who in spite of stumbling over a few lines on opening night, comes on strong with humor, passion and warmth as the performance plays out. Young, a favorite with IT audiences, was also seen in IT's first two plays of the season, The Real Inspector Hound and Love Letters. In this performance, as always, Young displays true understanding and compassion for her character, and she plays the part with a perfect combination of zeal and softness.
IT's managing artistic director Susan Claassen thrills audiences by getting back on stage in the role of the reticent Lotte, which she plays with hilarious restraint. Her speeches, delivered in the rigid temperament of her character, are overshadowed only by her priceless facial expressions and body movements. The chemistry clicks between Young and Claassen, just as it does between Lettice and Lotte, and makes the unlikely friendship believable.
Jetti Ames is hysterical in the small role of Miss Framer, timid secretary to Miss Schoen, and Tom Turner is equally amusing as Mr. Bardolph, attorney at law.
A special appearance by Felina the cat confirms the adage that children and animals always steal the scene. When Lotte arrives at Lettice's flat, Felina turns away from the feline-loathing visitor with a look of disdain, and plays the audience for all it's worth during her short time on stage.
The short first half of Shaffer's play moves slowly, but not tediously; however, director Gail Fitzhugh pulls the play together and it glides smoothly and shines with humor through the second half.
James Blair's set design of Lettice's basement flat is fun and colorful and entirely Lettice.
IT's production of Shaffer's play, which celebrates originality and art, is perfectly timed in light of recent threats to the humanities nationwide.
Invisible Theatre's production of Lettice and Lovage continues with performances at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday through February 12. Invisible Theatre is located at 1400 N. First Ave. Ticket prices range from $12 to $14. For more information call 882-9721.
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