Tea and Entropy: Lettice and Lovage at the Quotidian Theatre Company
Lettice and Lovage is crafted with love, a fitting tribute to a playwright, Peter Shaffer, whose passion for words makes this play a joy to watch. The leads, Jane Squier Bruns, as Miss Lettice Douffet, and Leah Mazade, as Miss Charlotte Schoen, have reached deep into themselves for an uncommon understanding of two very different women. This is theatre for grown-ups, and admirers of Downton Abbey and Wolf Hall will find themselves very much at home.
The play, originally written as a vehicle for the great Maggie Smith, features Lettice (Jane Squier Bruns) as a tour guide with a flair for the dramatic, forced by circumstances to shepherd hapless tourists around Fustian House, one of the most boring edifices in England. Lettice suffers, understandably, from her only too accurate appreciation of her groups’ utter disinterest, and spices things up a bit by embroidering on the home’s actual history. Although Lettice’s customers are charmed by her theatricality, the local Preservation Trust gets wind of her lack of truthiness, as Stephen Colbert would put it. Charlotte Schoen (Leah Mazade), their HR representative, must “handle” the situation in the most discreet way possible, which fortunately does not involve being escorted out by security, as it would in uncouth America.
Ms. Bruns, a gifted actress, has an elegant, almost frail demeanor, well suited to her role. Leah Mazade, as Miss Schoen, creates a woman who seems ordinary on the surface, but reveals a surprisingly explosive history of her own. As the relationship develops, the two women discover that despite their surface differences, they are kindred spirits. Many themes are touched on; the hideousness of certain types of modern architecture; the brave deaths of various unlucky monarchs; and the redemptive promise of honesty and friendship.
Elizabeth Darby, as Miss Schoen’s overzealous assistant, Miss Framer, has a sure comic touch, and John Decker, as the lawyer Bardolph who comes to Lettice’s aid in her hour of need, deftly presents a well-meaning and exceptionally histrionic member of his profession.
The Visitors to Fustian House, played by David Johnson, Elizabeth Darby, and Ruthie Rado, have the difficult task of sketching a varied number of characters in a limited amount of time. They succeed beautifully, providing a realistic counterpoint to Lettice’s increasingly lurid inventions. John Decker, as an especially surly Visitor, portrays with finesse the indignation of the historian in the face of romantic hyperbole.
The sound design, by Nick Sampson and Louis Pangaro, includes light classical music as well as some more modern pieces, enhancing the spirit of the production. The costumes, by cast and crew, are appropriate and, in Lettice’s case, strikingly lovely. Lighting Design, by Don Slater, is of the same high caliber as the rest of the production. Projections and music artfully bring us to the heart of London, and then out to and within majestic Fustian House. The set itself, by John Decker and D, is attractive and well-suited to the play.
Ms. Schoen complains about “ghosts”; aging women in her office who moan about how everything should have been, must have been, really was much better in the old days. Still, in the particularity and sophistication of this production, we see that quality never goes out of style. In Lettice and Lovage, Director Louis Pangaro celebrates the play for what it truly is—a valentine to the English language.
Running Time: 3 hours, with one 5-minute and one 15-minute intermission.
Lettice and Lovage plays through May 17, 2015,at Quotidian Theatre Company performing at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. The venue is a short walk from the Bethesda Metro Station. There is free parking on Saturdays and Sundays. For tickets, call (800) 838-3006 Ext.1, or purchase them online.