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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Lettice and Lovage
The light-hearted story about a tour guide at one of England's architecturally and historically least interesting stately mansions who is fired by an uptight Preservation administrator for indulging her penchant for using her imagination to give Fustian Manor the pizzazz it lacks. With the underlying attack on mediocrity to give heft to this light confection, the play has had numerous regional revivals. But none have found an actress or setting as ideally suitable as Tina Packer and Shakespeare & Company's Springlawn Mansion, or a director to take advantage of the site specific possibilities of the venue.
Packer is a solidly trained, witty actress and listening to English roll off her tongue is always a pleasure. Though she doesn't quite fall into Smith's category of actresses who could draw crowds reading the telephone book, she is a delightful Lettice. As the visionary who founded Shakespeare & Company, she has much in common with her character's mother who also founded a Shakespeare Company outside her native England (in the play the company is located in France) and instilled Lettice with the motto "enlarge, enliven, enlighten." As this marks a rare long-term acting role for Packer, this amusing farce should help to shore up he r Company's dangerously depleted financial resources.
The production's uniqueness reaches its peak during the first twenty-five minutes when the audience is directed to the seats placed at the foot of Springlawn entrance hall's curved wooden staircase. (A caveat: there aren't enough seats for everyone so if you don't want to stand, get out of the theater and grab one of the chairs fast). With the audience and other members of the cast serving as her audience, the irrepressible Lettice then takes us through three distinctly different and increasingly more dramatic histories of Fustian House. The last is interrupted by the outraged Lotte Schoen (Diane Prusha) who summons Lettice to appear in her office.
The audience then moves back into the "regular" theater for that fateful meeting. Though the prim and proper administrator is not to be swayed from her decision to dismiss the unconventional tour guide, it turns out that Lettice has unleashed the romantic and quality-starved spirit inside her bureaucratic exterior. Thus, unlike other Shaffer plays where the mundane spirit gains dominance over the creative spirit, Lotte is conscience stricken and visits Lettice in her theatrical prop filled apartment to offer her a chance at another job. Lettice and Lotte become friends -- abetted by lovage (a concoction made from a European herb with which Lettice flavors the drink she serves the at first reluctant Lotte.
Before the happy ending that, besides uniting the two lonely spinsters, satisfies their mutually shared disdain of mediocrity, there's a misunderstanding that almost lands Lettice in jail. Despite the warmth of the characterizations and the theme which adds substance to fun and witticisms, this confection hardly supports three hours. As director Holdrridge felt free to add updated references (as when Lettice suggests putting details about Lotte's plan for an "Eyesore Negation" tour on the internet), she should have felt free to trim some of the soliloquies in order to get to the curtain calls at least a half an hour sooner. b
Though Diane Prusha is competent enough as Lotte, this is clearly Ms. Packer's show. Catherine Taylor-Williams and Andrew Borthwick-Leslie are fine as Lotte's assistant Miss Framer and Lettice's court appointed lawyer. Not to be overlooked is one non-speaking performer, Tina Packer's own furry friend as Isis, the cat.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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Berkshire Hikes &
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Morgan House Inn & Restaurant
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Pappa Charlie's Deli
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6,500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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