The Column Online



By Peter Shaffer

Richardson Theatre Centre

Directed by Rachael Lindley
Assistant Director – Richard Stephens Jr.
Stage Manager – Travis Whitcraft
Set Design – Chris Berthelot
Set Dressing – Rachael Lindley
Lighting Design – Chris Berthelot
Tech Director/Sound Design – Richard Stephens Sr.
Sound/Light Operator – Travis Whitcraft
Costumer – Glynda Welch
Projection Design – Chuck Moore
Props – Chad Park
Artistic Director – Rachael Lindley
Executive Director – Lise Alexander
House Manager/Facebook – Leigh Wyatt Moore
Playbill/Flyers/Web/Enews – Becky Byrley

Lettice Douffet – Deborah Key
Surly Man – Charles A. Alexander
Lotte Schoen – Karen Jordan
Miss Framer – Shashana Pearson
Mr. Bardolph – Lloyd Webb
Tourists – Steve Benzinger, Becky Byrley, Elaine Erback, Shashana Pearson and Chad Park.

Reviewed Performance: 3/24/2018

Reviewed by Chris Hauge, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The performance of “Lettice and Lovage I attended on Saturday was a quandary for me. I knew it was written by Peter Shaffer (“Black Comedy”, “Equus”, “Amadeus”, etc.) but, apart from a brief description I read online, I had little idea what I was about to see. After having seen the Richardson Centre production of this play, I find myself in a delicate position. How do I review a production where I did not connect to the script at all and how do I evaluate the performances, which are affected by my feelings about the source material? This is a purely personal issue and though I may be wrestling with it publicly, I don’t want it to cause people to avoid “Lettice & Lovage” and miss two compelling performances by doing so.

“Lettice and Lovage “was written by Peter Shaffer for Maggie Smith, who was the original title character Lettice Douffet. It was produced for the London stage in 1987 and ran for 768 performances over two years and is ranked among the longer runs in London theatrical history (this information is from Wikipedia which, in turn, cites the “Long Runs in Theatre” website). Its Broadway run opened March 13, 1990 and closed after 286 performances on December 23, 1990. In interviews, Mr. Shaffer described it as a “…very English piece.” That may, in part, explain the distance I felt from the script.

The play takes us to the Grand Hall of Fustian House in Wilshire, England and is described by Lettice Douffet (Deborah Key) as one of the most boring Houses in England. Lettice has been employed as a tour guide and we watch as she leads her somnolent group into the hall, reads out the history as she has it on a clipboard and is ignored by the tourists. What follows are repetitions of the very same scene in the Grand Hall but with Lettice becoming more and more loose with the truth and creating elaborate and salacious stories about the house, much to the pleasure of the crowds who now flock to her tour and reward her with tips. One day she is confronted by the president of the Preservation Trust, Lotte Schoen (Karen Jordan), who has tagged along on a tour and commands Lettice to come to her office in London the next day to discuss Lettice’s flights of fancy disguised as history.

Lettice arrives at the office with all the drama of one approaching the headsman and is received with Mrs. Schoen’s steely reserve. Lettice explains that her mother was the head of an all-women Shakespeare Company (who spoke all the historical plays in French) and she embedded in Lettice the mantra, “Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!” It is the code Lettice lives by. This information is poorly received by Lotte Schoen and things do not end well.

Then we realize that the first act was just a ‘meet-cute’ on the part of the playwright. Mr. Shaffer brings together two disparate characters who do not like each other at first and discover through shared ideals (and mostly using a strong cordial made with lovage, a parsley-like Herb) that they have much in common and become friends. What follows in the next two acts is a long and fitfully funny diatribe on the dullness of modern English architecture. And I could not connect to the material. The play could do with a good deal of editing which would sharpen its edge a little bit. It is a piece driven by talk and to succeed in producing such a work the pace must be brisk and the actors must dazzle us.

For the most part the performances of Deborah Key and Karen Jordan do dazzle us. Ms. Key’s Lettice has the sweeping gestures and the dramatically overripe delivery of a person whose every moment in life is a performance. She reminds me a little bit of Patricia Routledge’s Hyacinth in “Keeping Up Appearances”, but without that Character’s snobbery. She abhors the dullness of the life around her and makes it her mission to strike out against “the mere”, the ordinary. Things don’t just Happen to Lettice, they explode around her and she doesn’t just rise to the occasion, she rallies the armies of heaven to come to her defense. Nothing is “mere” in the world of Ms. Key’s character yet the actress also reveals Lettice’s vulnerability and loneliness against which her personal dramatics continually fight. She is great fun to watch

Karen Jordan’s Lotte Schoen comes across very angry in the first scene (understandable after hearing the history of Fustian House recreated before her very eyes) which moves to a mildly sympathetic officiousness in the next scene and then believably transforms (through Lettice’s personality and the lubrication supplied by the cordial) to empathy and finally, friendship. There are times when Ms. Jordan really bites into the script and I feel a spark that I wish had been present throughout the entire play. Even a lovely performance like Ms. Jordan’s can occasionally be slowed down by the weight of the words. The work of both Karen Jordan and Deborah Key is the best reason to see this show. They care a great deal about their characters and it shows.

The other actors have little stage time but get the job done well. Charles A. Alexander plays a surly English Scholar with the proper amount of huffiness and arrogance. Sashana Pearson is Lotte Schoen’s down-trodden secretary Miss Framer and manages to make the carrying of a tea cup one of the highlights of Act one. Lloyd Webb as Lettice’s barrister, Mr. Bardolph, needs to relax into his role a bit more. I think he is trying to be official when we meet him but comes across as stiff. He does loosen up during the act as his character falls under the spell of Lettice’s storytelling, so I know he can do it. I think more performances under his belt will help.

The direction of Rachael Lindley is efficient, and she does well in handling a talk-heavy script. Chris Berthelot’s set design is minimal but clearly conveys the playing spaces. The costumes by Glynda Welch have a proper English feel to them and special mention needs to be given to a nightdress Lettice displays during the play. It is truly spectacular.

Again, my failure to connect to the script is my own issue I don’t want it to reflect negatively on the production. I urge you to come out and support Richardson Centre Theatre and treat yourself to the performances of Deborah Key and Karen Jordan. That is more than enough reason to attend.

Richardson Centre Theatre
March 23 – April 8, 2018
Thursday performances - 7:30 PM - $20
Friday and Saturday performances - 8 PM - $22
Sunday matinees - 2 PM - $20 (No Performance on Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018)
Groups of 8, $2 off each ticket
518 W. Arapaho Rd, Suite 113
Richardson TX 75080
For Tickets and information – 972-699-1130