Claire Nowak
Theater

Dueling Actresses in Quirky British Comedy

Renaissance production of Lettice and Lovage features Laura Gordon and Carrie Hitchcock.

By - Apr 8th, 2015 04:28 pm
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Lettice and Lovage

Lettice and Lovage

Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!

No, it is not the slogan of a budding political party, and it certainly did not originate on a Motivational Quotes board on Pinterest. It is the life motto of one Letitia “Lettice” Douffet, the protagonist in Lettice and Lovage, opening this weekend at Renaissance Theaterworks.

Lettice (Laura Gordon) is a quite a character, a middle-aged woman with an enthusiastic — or is it over-enthusiastic ? — love of life. Ah, but her job puts a damper on that fervor; she gives tours of the historic Fustian House, an old London home that really doesn’t have much history. So she starts embellishing her scripted monologues, getting more extravagant with each tour. Soon, Queen Elizabeth visits the house — twice — and  nearly falls to her death down the stairs.

But Lettice’s fun cannot last long. Her boss Lotte (Carrie Hitchcock) finds out about her hyped-up history and visits the house to confront Lettice. This creates a battle between the two, but also a kind of friendship, as they become an odd couple of sorts, according to artistic director Suzan Fete.

The play is a comedy by British playwright Peter Shaffer, better known for big dramas like Amadeus and Equus. It has an unusual plot, Fete notes. Few plays are written for middle-aged characters, let alone a comedy about two middle-aged women that substitutes a traditional romantic plot for one centered on friendship.

Renaissance Theaterworks has had its eyes on the play for several years, but the cast—five actors plus extras—was too expensive for the company. But the company can now take it on, and the cast and crew, led by director Jenny Wanasek, are making the most of the opportunity.

“Laura Gordon and Carrie Hitchcock are on stage together, so that’s worth the price of admission already,” Fete says.

With only a three-week rehearsal period, actors didn’t have much time to get off book before onstage rehearsals, dialect coaching, and costume fittings started. Comedies are difficult to perfect because it’s all about the timing and the most effective delivery of the lines, and that requires painstaking work.

On top of that, Gordon has big shoes to fill. The role of Lettice was originated by Dame Maggie Smith; her friend Peter Shaffer wrote the character specifically for her. Gordon hasn’t shown any signs of pressure in following Smith’s footsteps, but there is an issue of sorts with her supporting “actor.”

Gordon has to work intimately with cast member Gus T.T. Doherty. Gus plays Lettice’s cat.

“He’s quite the professional,” Fete says of Gus. “He’s done really well. There were some issues, but right now, he’s behaving well.”

But crew members will need to wash Gordon’s costume after every performance. She is allergic to cats.

Opens 7:30 p.m. April 10 at the Studio Theatre at Broadway Theatre Center. Tickets cost $31-39, available online or by calling 414-291-7800. Each ticketholder is entered into a drawing to win a private concert from violinist Frank Almond and his stolen Stradivarius.

Ten Questions to Ask your Biology Teacher about Evolution

“Don’t think you know what this play is about.”

That is the disclaimer Deborah Staples gives about the latest production from Next Act Theatre, Ten Questions to Ask your Biology Teacher about Evolution. Of course, there is no way of knowing the plot since it has never been performed before. Thursday’s show, directed by Shawn Douglass, is its world premiere.

Yet the subject of playwright Stephen Massicotte’s newest work is all too familiar—the debate between teaching evolution or intelligent design in science courses.

Staples plays Ms. Kelly, a biology teacher starting a job in a new town. She does not know much about the residents or their culture, but she is excited at the idea of returning to her favorite subject after a hiatus in her career.

Then she meets Raymond (Kyle Curry). The 16-year-old challenges her teaching with a series of questions—yes, 10 of them—that are meant to poke holes in the theory of evolution. Ms. Kelly recognizes the erroneous premises of the questions, and she later discovers Raymond and his mother (Mary MacDonald Kerr) reject evolution for intelligent design. They want both theories brought into the school’s science curriculum. Ms. Kelly wants to teach purely science. But to do so, and consequently threaten the religious culture of the community, could cost her a job.

It’s a controversy prevalent in schools today. In researching the topic, Staples found that many teachers are in the same position as her character. As a result, they don’t teach the curriculum the way they would like to for the sake of appeasing school and community officials. “(Teaching evolution) can be so offensive to some people that they kind of turn off,” she says.

However, Massicotte addresses the charged issue in a “respectful, gentle way,” according to Staples. He highlights the problem of completely blocking communication between the theories and poses a solution—a space for science and religion to co-exist without one negating the other.

Coming from a Christian upbringing, Staples admits that being in the show caused her to evaluate her own views and question beliefs she took for granted as a child. The play has changed her, it seems, and you, too, may be surprised by it.

Opens 7:30 p.m. April 9 at Next Act Theatre. Tickets cast $28-38, available online or by calling 414-278-0765.

Company

Marriage is a big commitment, but is it worth it? Marquette Theatre attempts to settle the question with Stephen Sondheim’s Company. Amidst an internal debate about whether he should stay single or try for something, Bobby uses encounters with his best friends—five married couples—and his three girlfriends to weigh the pros and cons of tying the knot. It’s Sondheim at his best, a musical with a great score that can become a great ensemble show.

Opens 7:30 p.m. April 9 at the Evan P. & Marion Helfaer Theatre on the Marquette University campus. Tickets cost $20, available online or by calling 414-288-7504.

0 thoughts on “Theater: Dueling Actresses in Quirky British Comedy”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lettice and Lovage sounds like a fun play to me, with lots of laughs! Besides that I’d recommend Renaissance Theater highly to anyone!

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