Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Lettice and Lovage
The actors who play the tourists are a hoot. They include Margie Maes, Parker Owens, Ludwig Puchmayer, Heather Antonio, Marcus L. Ivey, Rhonda Sigler-Ware, and Linda Sklov. Each of the three times we see the group, the actors are dressed in different clothes, wigs and demeanors. The creative comedy in the costume design (Carolyn Hogan, always wonderful) and tourist acting sets high expectations for laughs to come. And they do, though the humor shifts to the quirky relationship between the two leading characters.
We see Lettice's tour play out again with even more fantastical stories, and the tourists are lapping it up. But there's a problem. Disguised among the tourists is Lotte Schoen (Jessica Osbourne), a manager from the Preservation Trust, which owns Fustian House. Lotte is spying on Lettice. There have been complaints that Lettice is making up unbelievable stories about Fustian House, and Lotte has come to see for herself. Lotte is outraged by Lettice's stories and demands she come by the office the next day. That, of course, results in a firing.
Yet Lotte is intrigued by Lettice's flair for the fantastic. In the second act, a few weeks have passed. Lotte visits Lettice's basement flat with a lead on a job that might require a guide whose stories lean toward the incredible. But that's more to Lotte's interest than the simple compassion of finding work for a fired employee. As Lotte learns more about Lettice, she reveals her own hidden past. The afternoon of bonding is fueled by cup after cup of Lettice's vodka-based concoction dubbed "lovage."
Lotte sees value in Lettice's brilliant embellishments. They offer color to Lotte's otherwise drab and repressed world. Lotte discovers she can be authentic in Lettice's company, and the two become fast friends. English architecture plays a big role in the play. I'm not sure how well the topic resonates with an American audience that doesn't consider the degradation of traditional architecture a top-of-mind suffer-worthy subject. But no matter. What's critical is the lively relationship between the two characters.
The play has two intermissions, though it's not that long. As the third act opens, we discover there's been a falling out between Lettice and Lotte, and Lettice is facing attempted murder charges over some altercation that has landed Lotte is the hospital. The story grows becomes more interesting as we find out what happened and watch a heady resolution.
Shaffer is a playwright of considerable range. He is the author of the weightier plays Equus and Amadeus. Lettice and Lovage came relatively late in his writing career, when he was in his early 60s. He only produced two more plays. Lettice and Lovage is Shaffer's return to comedy after more than two decades. He apparently wrote an "Americanized" version of the play that involved a more dramatic and outrageous ending, which was criticized as feeling "tacked on." West End sticks with the original English ending.
The focus of the action is on Lettice and Lotte. McClure and Osbourne are exceptional actors. These roles show their comedic chops. I could watch them go at it for hours. In this way, a play with two intermissions still seems short. The additional characters make only brief appearances, with the exception of Parker Owen as Mr. Bardolph, Lettice's attorney in act three. Owen is absolutely delightful in his brief and very comic appearance.
I'm not sure I can see what Marty Epstein, a very skilled director, brings to the production other than casting and supporting the natural abilities of the two lead actresses. The casting was likely preordained, given that McClure runs West End and Osbourne appears in most West End productions. His role here was probably a matter of putting the pieces together and getting out of the way as McClure and Osbourne tear into their roles.
The production team offers fine support, with McClure handling set design, Samantha Gonzales as stage manager, and Ray Rey Griego offering lighting design.
McClure and Osbourne have shown considerable range in the few years since McClure launched West End Productions. The two have appeared in most of the company's productions, but Lettice and Lovage is the first I've seen to concentrate so fully on these two immensely talented women. It was an absolute delight to sit back and enjoy the emotional sparks and odd camaraderie play out in such capable hands. And since these are two Brits, it's all completed without a dialect coach.
Lettice and Lovage, through June 30, 2019, at West End Productions, VSA North Fourth Art Center, 4904 4th St. NW, Albuquerque NM. Performances are at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:00 pm on Sundays. General admission is $22. Discounted admission is $20 for ATG members, students, and seniors (62+). Tickets can be purchased at westendproductions.org or by calling 505-410-8524.