“Lettice & Lovage”
Westport Country Playhouse
Westport Country Playhouse is currently presenting a highly enjoyable and extremely well-acted production of Peter Shaffer’s amusing play, “Lettice & Lovage.” As expertly directed by Mark Lamos, this show actually gets better as it goes along, with the second act offering a number of laugh-out-loud moments. In “Lettice & Lovage,” the leading character dislikes anything that is “mere” or without color and excitement. It is thus a high compliment to say that this production is splendid and full of life. Featuring an excellent cast, who mine the comedy in the play for all it’s worth, the Westport Country Playhouse presentation of “Lettice & Lovage” is a real lark and exudes a welcome dose of joy to the audience.
It should be stated immediately that the original actress who was to play the central character of Lettice Douffet had to bow out of the production due to illness late in rehearsals and the present actress, Kandis Chappell, who took over the role, only had a limited amount of time to learn the role. Happily, Kandis Chappell’s performance is quite wonderful and was pretty much letter-perfect at the performance I attended.
The character of Lettice Douffet in the play is a woman who tends to overdramatize and change the facts as she sees fit. Indeed, the first group of scenes shows Lettice giving a tour of an old house, and elaborating on the house’s history more and more to make it sound more exciting and dramatic than it really was. Not to give too much away, but it is this fabrication of facts that gets Lettice into trouble, leading to her having to have a meeting with Charlotte Schoen (portrayed by the terrific Mia Dillon) to discuss Lettice’s future as a tour guide.
The balance of “Lettice & Lovage” is how the two women, Lettice Douffet and Charlotte Schoen, form an unusual and unexpected bond. These two roles were originally played on Broadway by, respectively, Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack, both of whom won Tony Awards for their work. As it turns out, the two actresses portraying these characters at Westport Country Playhouse are pretty dandy, themselves, and prove to be superb comediennes.
As noted, Kandis Chappell had a brief rehearsal period to learn the role of Lettice, but her performance is really quite glorious, as she splashes color and vibrancy wherever she goes. Mia Dillon, as Charlotte Schoen, is initially buttoned-up and stern until she lets her hair down (so to speak) under the spell of Lettice’s exuberance. I just saw Dillon do a fine job in dual roles in Hartford Stage’s recent staging of the play “Cloud 9” and she is almost even better here as Charlotte. Indeed, by the second act, these two performers truly get to shine and manage to evoke laugh-out-loud hilarity.
In supporting roles, Sarah Manton is funny as Charlotte’s put-upon secretary and Westport Country Playhouse is extremely fortunate to have gotten Paxton Whitehead to reprise his performance as Lettice’s lawyer, Mr. Bardolph, a part he originated on Broadway in 1990. Whitehead is always a welcome presence in any production and he is entirely delicious in “Lettice & Lovage,” as his character grows more and more bewildered, and he can win laughs with just the raising of an eyebrow.
Westport Country Playhouse’s “Lettice & Lovage” also looks entirely inviting, with a spectacular set designed by John Arnone and inventive costumes, beautifully designed by Jane Greenwood. Peter Shaffer’s play is somewhat lightweight and it really needs the spark of comedy to make it work, as well as extremely talented performers in the leading roles. Kandis Chappell and Mia Dillon, in particular, prove to be incandescent and a great deal of fun. This “Lettice & Lovage” is what one would call the opposite of “mere”: it is a truly happy and luxurious evening of merriment.
“Lettice & Lovage” continues performances at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, CT through June 17, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.westportcountryplayhouse.org or call the box office at 203-227-4177.
Photo: (L-R): Mia Dillon and Kandis Chappell
Photo by Carol Rosegg