'Lettice and Lovage' is much fun deftly offered by Colonial Players

March 12, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

The older I get, the more of a sucker I become for the truly deft touch. A sustained musical phrase turned just so. An elegantly styled bit of prose. Who cares about a "slam dunk" contest when you can watch a craftily pitched ball game.

I like deft touches on the stage as well, but they've been few and far between at the Colonial Players of Annapolis this season, what with staid British vicars cavorting in their underwear and Lillian Hellman's plastic characters blathering out their pretentious platitudes. To be sure, CP's production of August Wilson's "Fences" was searing, viscera, honest, gut-wrenching stuff. But deft? Nope.

So it is with pleasure that I commend Colonial Players' deftly acted, deftly directed production of "Lettice and Lovage", the charming comedy so deftly written by Peter Shaffer of "Amadeus" fame.

Lettice Douffet is a tour guide at a hum-drum British mansion who quickly tires of the boring spiel she must recite to her charges each and every time through the house. Her passion for theatricality getsthe best of her and soon she is embellishing the tale to sightseers who listen on pins and needles to the Elizabethan sagas she spins out extemporaneously.

While Lettice's hyperactive imagination brings larger tips from grateful tourists, it also gets her in hot water with Lotte Schoen, her no-nonsense boss who wants the whole truth and nothing but the truth from her employees, no matter how boring it may be.

But in hassling Lettice, Lotte gets more than she bargains for: She finds a friend. Each woman unlocks something in the other. Lotte's presence elevates the flighty Lettice who clearly feels less like a dingbat with her new friend around, while Lettice's zany passion for history and theater help Lotte confront the demons of her past. The therapy is anything but orthodox but, as Lettice says, it "enlarges, enlivens and enlightens" them both.

Both principals create their characters with unmistakable affection and respect for who they are.

Lois Evans is a delight from start to finish as Lettice. From her opening succession of ever-crazier monologues to the bizarre re-enactment of the "crime" for which she is charged, Ms. Evans imbues her character with a touching vulnerability and honest whimsy that engenders much sympathetic laughter.

Jessica Norton is with her every step of the way as Lotte. There are complex ebbs and flows to this character and Ms. Norton explores them all with sensitivity and skill. From a peevish boss to a helpful friend; from the wounded child to the aspiring terrorist, it is a richly drawn characterization.

Bryan Barrett's engaging presence as Lettice's attorney helps to create and resolve a surprising amount of suspense in Act II.

I also applaud the play's tautly arranged pacing as conceived by director David White. His logistical handling of Lettice's multiple tour recitations was -- you guessed it -- deft.

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