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Lettice and Lovage

Lettice and Lovage (Pasadena Playhouse; 700 seats; $ 39.50 top) Pasadena Playhouse presents a comedy in three acts by Peter Shaffer. Directed by David Galligan; set, Gary Wissman; lighting, Kevin Mahan; costumes, Zoe DuFour; sound, Thomas Connors. Opened Nov. 17, 1996, reviewed Nov. 16; runs through Dec. 22. Running time: 2 hours, 10 min. Cast: Jane Carr (Lettice Douffet), Mary Jo Catlett (Charlotte Schoen), Ian Abercrombie (Mr. Bardolph), Jane Crawley (Woman in Crowd), Stuart McLean (Surly Man), Erica Rogers (Woman With Baby), Henrietta Valor (Miss Framer). While no other performer is likely to dethrone Maggie Smith from the heart of Peter Shaffer's London and Broadway hit, Jane Carr gives a credible performance, finding a lively, earthy interpretation of her ethereal character Lettice. This production is solid in every respect, particularly in the fine performances by Carr, Mary Jo Catlett, Ian Abercrombie and Henrietta Valor. Shaffer's play is an extended character study of Lettice Douffet (Carr), an eccentric in a country of eccentrics. She begins the play as a bored tour guide at the obscure Fustian house, which she describes as "the dullest house in England." Lettice begins to "enlarge, enlighten and enliven" her tour spiel until it features headlong dives down a fabled staircase by tormented brides and displays of heroism by noble lords. Unfortunately, none of Lettice's lively theatrics are true, which quickly lands her in trouble with her stern, repressed supervisor, Charlotte Schoen (Catlett). Lettice is summoned to Schoen's office and, despite an eloquent, fantastical defense, is fired. Schoen clearly feels guilty about the firing and, some time later, visits Lettice to aid in her search for employment. Before long, the two have become fast friends and are scurrying about London in their passion to re-enact famous executions from English history. By the beginning of the third act, Schoen is in the hospital and the only thing that stands between Lettice and prosecution is her bewildered barrister, Mr. Bardolph (Abercrombie). Unlike Shaffer's weightier works like "Amadeus" and "Equus," this play was simply a valentine to a wonderful actress. Its story meanders through charming byways, but never really takes flight. What does soar, however, is the magnificent, archaic language that Lettice speaks a kind of flowery Victorian prose with a dose of Shakespeare. Beyond her airy dialogue, Lettice is enchanting because of her character, which seems to be plucked out of time and deposited in a dreary basement flat in London, which she has transformed into a fantasy of theatrical whimsy. Whether it be a staid solicitor or the stolid supervisor of the Preservation Trust, no one is immune to Lettice's charms. Catlett is excellent as the tweedy bureaucrat who nurtures a phobia about cats as well as scores of other repressed emotions. Abercrombie is a pure joy as the puzzled lawyer, hilariously demonstrating the old saw that "acting is reacting." And Valor does a lovely turn as Schoen's lovable but distracted secretary. Director David Galligan, while clearly giving his talented cast room to work, has failed to fully mine the comedy of the piece, both in the pacing and in the edginess of the characters. A safe and solid effort, this lacks the risk-taking that is so important to a successful production. Sets by Gary Wissman are impressive without overwhelming the show, and costumes by Zoe DuFour capture nicely the quirky essence of traditional British fashion. Hoyt Hilsman

Lettice and Lovage (Pasadena Playhouse; 700 seats; $ 39.50 top) Pasadena Playhouse presents a comedy in three acts by Peter Shaffer. Directed by David Galligan; set, Gary Wissman; lighting, Kevin Mahan; costumes, Zoe DuFour; sound, Thomas Connors. Opened Nov. 17, 1996, reviewed Nov. 16; runs through Dec. 22. Running time: 2 hours, 10 min. Cast: Jane Carr (Lettice Douffet), Mary Jo Catlett (Charlotte Schoen), Ian Abercrombie (Mr. Bardolph), Jane Crawley (Woman in Crowd), Stuart McLean (Surly Man), Erica Rogers (Woman With Baby), Henrietta Valor (Miss Framer). While no other performer is likely to dethrone Maggie Smith from the heart of Peter Shaffer’s London and Broadway hit, Jane Carr gives a credible performance, finding a lively, earthy interpretation of her ethereal character Lettice. This production is solid in every respect, particularly in the fine performances by Carr, Mary Jo Catlett, Ian Abercrombie and Henrietta Valor. Shaffer’s play is an extended character study of Lettice Douffet (Carr), an eccentric in a country of eccentrics. She begins the play as a bored tour guide at the obscure Fustian house, which she describes as “the dullest house in England.” Lettice begins to “enlarge, enlighten and enliven” her tour spiel until it features headlong dives down a fabled staircase by tormented brides and displays of heroism by noble lords. Unfortunately, none of Lettice’s lively theatrics are true, which quickly lands her in trouble with her stern, repressed supervisor, Charlotte Schoen (Catlett). Lettice is summoned to Schoen’s office and, despite an eloquent, fantastical defense, is fired. Schoen clearly feels guilty about the firing and, some time later, visits Lettice to aid in her search for employment. Before long, the two have become fast friends and are scurrying about London in their passion to re-enact famous executions from English history. By the beginning of the third act, Schoen is in the hospital and the only thing that stands between Lettice and prosecution is her bewildered barrister, Mr. Bardolph (Abercrombie). Unlike Shaffer’s weightier works like “Amadeus” and “Equus,” this play was simply a valentine to a wonderful actress. Its story meanders through charming byways, but never really takes flight. What does soar, however, is the magnificent, archaic language that Lettice speaks a kind of flowery Victorian prose with a dose of Shakespeare. Beyond her airy dialogue, Lettice is enchanting because of her character, which seems to be plucked out of time and deposited in a dreary basement flat in London, which she has transformed into a fantasy of theatrical whimsy. Whether it be a staid solicitor or the stolid supervisor of the Preservation Trust, no one is immune to Lettice’s charms. Catlett is excellent as the tweedy bureaucrat who nurtures a phobia about cats as well as scores of other repressed emotions. Abercrombie is a pure joy as the puzzled lawyer, hilariously demonstrating the old saw that “acting is reacting.” And Valor does a lovely turn as Schoen’s lovable but distracted secretary. Director David Galligan, while clearly giving his talented cast room to work, has failed to fully mine the comedy of the piece, both in the pacing and in the edginess of the characters. A safe and solid effort, this lacks the risk-taking that is so important to a successful production. Sets by Gary Wissman are impressive without overwhelming the show, and costumes by Zoe DuFour capture nicely the quirky essence of traditional British fashion. Hoyt Hilsman

Lettice and Lovage

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