PHOTO BY GLOUCESTER STAGE COMPANY
Oscar-nominated actress Linsday Crouse returns to Gloucester Stage to take possession of the part of Lettice Douffet.
BY JACK BUTTERWORTH
GLOUCESTER — The Gloucester Stage Company has opened its 2016 season with a rollicking comedy that is more than a play — it is a burst of joy designed to captivate any audience.
The title may be deceiving, but playgoers should know that Peter Shaffer wrote “Lettice and Lovage” in the 1980s at the request of Maggie Smith, to give her and all veteran actresses a chance to own the stage once more and share a joke about life that is as profound as it is funny.
Broadway audiences flocked to it in 1990, theatre professionals gave Best Actress Tonys to Smith and her co-star Margaret Tyzack and actresses have been reveling in this opportunity ever since.
And what actresses the GSC has found.
After a three-year hiatus Oscar-nominated actress Lindsay Crouse has returned to Gloucester Stage to take possession of the part of Lettice, a flamboyant middle-aged romantic with a British bookish accent who can’t help adding flourish and drama as she guides tourists through a mundane estate tour or thrusting points home with a sword.
Her boss and adversary Charlotte is played by Marya Lowry as Lettice’s perfect foil, a repressed office supervisor who never strays beyond historic facts and company policy. Her allergy-inspired shriek when she sees a cat and her struggle to swallow an extra-stiff drink are delightfully defining.
Both characters are trapped in lives that their past has created for them, and each one struggles to change the other in a comic battle of wills that features two major unveilings, a near-decapitation and all the funny, fumbling awkwardness that patrons could wish for.
Director Benny Sato Ambush has accepted the gifts this play and this cast have given, and he has made sure they are always on display. In his hands a two-and-a-half-hour play zooms past like cars on a speedway.
Jon Savage’s set design uses revolving sections to give us three different locations, each with its own style and color scheme.
The actors, who also include Gloucester first-timers Mark Cohen as Lettice’s desperately frazzled lawyer and Janelle Mills as Charlotte’s shrill, obsessive secretary, love every minute of this play and judging by the reaction so did the audience.
The play and the laughter run through June 11. There’s still time to get in on the joke.