Crouse’s ‘Lettice’ enlarges, enlivens, and enlightens
GLOUCESTER – I don’t know if it actually happens, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Gloucester Stage Company Artistic Director Robert Walsh consults Lindsay Crouse before setting his season’s schedule.
If a world-class actress is living in your community and willing to grace your stage, you’d have to be pretty clueless not to inquire: “Say Lindsay, is there any particular role you’ve been aching to play?”
Cross another one off her acting “bucket list.” Crouse is making the role of Lettice Douffet her own in the GSC’s production of Peter Shaffer’s “Lettice and Lovage” now through June 11.
Since making her Gloucester debut in 2007 with “The Belle of Amherst,” whether she’s part of the ensemble in “The Norman Conquests” or taking the lead in “Driving Miss Daisy,” Crouse’s arrival on the Gloucester stage each summer is welcomed.
The part of Lettice was originally written for Dame Maggie Smith, who won a Tony, and it’s easy to see her in it, but it’s also in Crouse’s wheelhouse, too and she doesn’t miss the pitch.
If you have traveled extensively, you know the energy and enthusiasm of a good tour guide can lift you and excite you and enhance your experience in many ways. That goes even in the dreariness of a Wiltshire County estate in 1990 where, as Lettice sees it, her role as guide requires her to “Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!” especially in a place where nothing actually ever happened, even in its heyday in the 16th century.
Lettice’s theatrical genes come straight from her mother, who ran a touring theater company, with one day a pillow for Richard III’s hunchback and then switching it around for Falstaff’s belly, and Lettice employs the “three E’s” to great effect while embellishing the details of what actually happened in the mansion.
The number of tour attendees grows and the events being described become unreognizeable. Lettice starts to get blowback from some who question her accounts until – even worse – an adminstrator in the historic preservation home office pays a surprise visit during a tour.
Marya Lowry’s Charlotte “Lotte” Schoen is an imperious, by-the-book boss who brooks nothing that will impugn the good name of the preservation trust and the organization’s standings among scholars.
At a meeting in her London office, the two trade punches until Lotte sacks Lettice, who makes a most dramatic exit. Lotte is affected by both Lettice’s sense of drama – and her choice of wardrobe – and the toll the loss of the job will take on her.
Janelle Mills has some nice moments as Charlotte’s timid secretary who is entranced by Lettice’s dramatics, even as Lotte is in the process of sacking her.
Lowry, a founding member of Actors Shakespeare Project and part of a fine ensemble cast in last year’s production of “The New Electric Ballroom,” has perhaps the most difficult role in morphing from heartless villainess to someone who chooses to re-enter Lettice’s life and offer her both help – as Lettice uses the herb lovage to concoct an Elizabethan cocktail that loosens tongues and breaks down defenses – and companionship.
They find common ground in their love of history as Lotte reveals her past as an architecture student and the regret of a love lost.
Mark Cohen enters the fray with full force in the third act as Mr. Bardolph, the solicitor appointed to defend Lettice after an unlikely accident during the botched reconstruction of an historic execution.
It threatens to land Lettice in jail and end her relationship with Lotte.
Cohen’s solicitor is funny, but just a tad too much over the top; he could scale it back a bit and let the part and the writing carry the day.
Director Benny Sato Ambush has successfully teamed with Crouse before in Gloucester’s “Driving Miss Daisy” and here he helps Crouse capture the essence of Lettice without her ever crossing over to an out-of-control caricature. He also makes sure the heart and humanity of the two women come to the fore in their scenes together.
Jon Savage’s detailed set moves seamlessly from the country estate to Charlotte’s office to Lettice’s eclectic basement apartment. Dewey Dellay’s sound design and original music set the proper tone.
There is great pleasure to be found in two fine actresses disappearing into their parts and the resulting humor and heartbreak as they find themselves increasingly off the beaten path as the world swirls around them.
Crouse and Lowry will have you wondering what happened to Lettice and Lotte after the final curtain, and wishing there was a way to visit them again.
The Gloucester Stage Company production of Peter Shaffer’s “Lettice and Lovage.” Directed by Benny Sato Ambush. Set design by Jon Savage. Sound design and original music by Dewey Dellay. Costumes by Miranda Kau Giurleo. Lighting by Brian J. Lillenhal. Through June 11 at Gloucester Stage Company. gloucesterstage.com.