MUST DO this weekend: Head on up to Gloucester Stage and treat yourself to their 37th season opener, Tony Award-winner Peter Shaffer’s slight but delicious LETTICE AND LOVAGE about two women who forge a friendship as they mount an attack on the modern world with their love of role-playing and romance! This amusing bauble of a play is polished to perfection by a dazzling duo– Oscar-nominated Gloucester resident Lindsay Crouse and distinguished Actors’ Shakespeare Project veteran Marya Lowry– whose characters get into a heap of hilarious trouble acting out the history one is sworn to relay, and the other is sworn to protect.
It all begins when the theatrically-inclined docent Lettice Douffet (Crouse) is giving guided tours through the aptly named Fustian House, “the dullest house in England.” Observing the yawns of the tourists (volunteers from the community!) Douffet begins to spin wild tales of its imagined past, explaining, “Fantasy floods in where fact leaves a vacuum.” Her extraordinary flights of fancy are soon reported and eventually witnessed by an inspector from the Preservation Trust, one Lotte Schoen (Lowry) who’s all about the facts. Lettice is abruptly “let go”–and Lotte is about to!
Unable to get Lettice out of her mind, Lotte visits the downcast former employee in her basement flat to help her find a job, when the unexpected happens. Lettice, the daughter of an actress, begins to lure Lotte the repressed administrator into the dangerous world of the dramatic arts; when Lettice uncorks an intoxicating medieval brew, she also uncorks Lotte’s inner rebel and the two women, “enemies of the mere” embark on a series of encounters designed to “Enlarge, Enliven, Enlighten” the ugly, technological modern world in which they find a mutual enemy.
Lindsay Crouse is a powerhouse, commanding the stage with every dramatic utterance, scaling each tall tale she tells with towering gusto. Marya Lowry has an even more difficult task, to morph from a bottled up bureaucrat to a woman unlocking the full power of her personality, literally letting her hair down with dignity and passion to spare. Mark Bardolph in a dual role as an angry tourist and an all- business barrister navigates an abbreviated version of this dramatic arc with rollicking results. Benny Sato Ambush propels the action using every inch of the space and allowing the actors loads of room to expand the hi- jinks from low comedy to high drama.
Shaffer’s broad stroke disdain of “modern architecture” is simplistic (I can’t help knowing this as I’m married to a modern architect) and it should be remembered that not everything from the past– like the aforementioned fusty “Fustian” house– is charm-laden. But Shaffer hints at the necessity of complimentary qualities as these women–perfect foils–find a resolution where the past and future is perfect. Don’t miss LETTICE AND LOVAGE through JUNE 11!