“Lettice and Lovage”

Susan Granger’s review of “Lettice and Lovage” (Westport Country Playhouse)

 

Laughter reigns as Westport Country Playhouse kicks off its 87th season with Peter Shaffer’s delightful comedy which has been imperceptibly snipped and deftly trimmed by director Mark Lamos.

While loquacious Lettice Douffet (Kandis Chappell) is doing her best to enliven her tour of the historic Fustian House in Wiltshire, which, admittedly, is “quite simply the dullest house in England,” her wildly imaginative fabrications raise the ire of strait-laced Charlotte Schoen (Mia Dillon), a formidable bureaucrat from the Preservation Trust.

Summoned to the Trust office, Lettice knows she’s going to be reprimanded and dismissed but, gradually, a bond of friendship develops between these lonely, yet disparate middle-aged women.

They meet on a weekly basis, indulging in grisly historical reenactments and enjoying goblets of a homemade libation, a cordial adapted from a 16th century recipe, containing vodka, brandy, sugar and a parsley-like herb called lovage.

Eventually, an accident occurs in Lettice’s basement apartment in Earl’s Court that requires the services of a solicitor (lawyer), Mr. Bardolph (Paxton Whitehead), summoned to defend her against a charge of attempted murder. Mr. Whitehead originated this part on Broadway in 1987, and he has become a master of befuddlement.

Although Shaffer wrote this play specifically for Dame Maggie Smith, Lamos’ Westport ‘odd couple’ casting is spot on: Kandis Chappell’s charismatic Lettice brims with theatrical vitality and grace, while Mia Dillon’s strident, idealistic Lotte softens, becoming a terrific comic foil.

John Armone’s entrancing set is evocative, complemented by Philip Rosenberg’s lighting, John Gromada’s sound design, and Jane Greenwood’s costumes.

The eloquent characters created by prolific playwright Peter Shaffer (“Amadeus,” “Equus”) always have a timely universality and his acerbic observations about London’s post-W.W.II urban planning lament the destruction of antiquity: “It wasn’t the Germans who destroyed London, it was British architecture.”

“Lettice and Lovage” runs through June 17 at the Westport Country Playhouse. For more information, go to www.westportplayhouse.org or call 203-227-4177.