We are in Wiltshire, England and the scene is set in the Grand Hall of the Fustian house, a dull historical preservation home where an older woman with a bright red scarf and regal air is explaining the history of a dusty, winding staircase to a yawning tour group.
Fast-forward a bit, and the once-unremarkable set of fifteen stairs becomes the supposed scene of a most ridiculous and dramatically untrue fable. The tour guide is now parading up the stairs, throwing her arms about, shouting passionately and posing theatrically as she tries desperately to liven things up a bit.
Meet Lettice Douffet, played by Donna Hester, in director Adam Hester’s delightful rendition of Lettice and Lovage, a comedic play by Peter Shaffer, in which an unlikely friendship blossoms from two women’s distaste for modern architecture and the ugliness of the present.
The role of Miss Douffet, a somewhat outlandish and imaginative romantic – who lives faithfully by her mother’s words to always “enlarge, enliven and enlighten” – is portrayed flawlessly by Hester, who seems truly to enjoy staggering across the stage, pursing her lips mischievously. With spectacular entrances and exits, complete with dramatic flourishes of feathered Elizabethan robes, Hester’s character keeps the play moving, despite somewhat lengthy scenes and unnecessary dialogue that tended to drag a bit in places. Hester’s vocal range, apparent in her trilling monologues and throaty “Hullahs!” adds remarkably to the character, as does the energy and brightness Hester throws into her endearing role.
Lettice’s rebelliousness is complemented excellently by Lindsey Rogers’ character, Lotte Shoen, a rather stuffy and refined administrator who is introduced firing Hester from her job as tour guide. Rogers couldn’t have done a better job playing the stern self-consciousness of her character. She exuded hesitance and repressed desire, while convincingly portraying an uptight and well-mannered businesswoman with an extreme aversion to cats. Reacting to Lettice’s antics with believable horror and amusement, Rogers performs with a confidence that helps the audience relate to her character.
Keri Hatfield makes the perfect eager assistant, Miss Framer. She invoked laughter from the audience with her fervent nodding and enthusiastic giggles.
Caleb Robinson’s role as Lettice’s stuffy lawyer, Mr. Bardolph, couldn’t have been more fittingly cast. Thanks to Lettice’s irresistible enthusiasm, even Robinson gets to stomp and play in his own awkward manner on stage, all the while pompously re-buttoning his blazer and scrunching his nose as we all know a young lawyer should.
It’s clear that the director’s casting choices reflect the play’s emphasis on characters, although the expertly created sets play almost as large a role.
Careful attention is given to the opening set, where Lettice repeatedly calls attention to “these fifteen steps” that wind upward into nothingness. Count the steps and indeed, there are fifteen, which magically disappear in a brief intermission to reveal Lotte’s elegant office. Lettice’s bold London flat, complete with chairs reminiscent of Shakespeare, captures the eccentricity and taste of Lettice’s character.
The play offers little to critique, although the use of television screens in Act I helped little to smooth scene transitions and seemed out of place and confusing. Besides that and the unnecessary suspense-laden music played during intermission, the production was flawless.
With a comedy like this kicking off the semester, it looks like the Theatre Department has a good season ahead of them. The October production, Thoroughly Modern Millie, is a musical comedy featuring a small-town girl’s adventures in New York City.
Lettice and Lovage is playing in Fulks Theatre Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m.. Tickets can be purchased online or through the box office in the Williams Performing Arts Center.