Truth is ticklish in ‘Lettice and Lovage’ at Little Theatre of Alexandria

In this tongue-in-cheek British comedy, two eccentric ladies come together as frenemies.

Lettice Douffet (Patricia Nicklin) lies more than Rep. George Santos did when he was running for Congress. Douffet’s problem, she claims, is that the script her employer, the Preservation Trust, wants her to recite at Fustian House is boring to her and tourists. Thus, Douffet begins to embellish and continues to do so until nothing resembling the truth remains in her presentations.

Peter Shaffer’s Lettice and Lovage, showing through March 18 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, explores how two mature ladies from different pasts come together as frenemies involved in two-women historical recreations. The meetings often include a special libation Lettice makes and reenactments of executions until one night …

Rachael Hubbard as Lottie Schoen and Pat Nicklin as Lettice Douffet in ‘Lettice and Lovage.’ Photo by Matt Liptak.

Lotte Schoen (Rachael Hubbard), a representative of the Trust, visits on a tour and invites Douffet to visit her at Shoen’s London office the next day. Douffet was raised by a Shakespearean actress who traveled the French countryside attempting to make a living and bring culture to French peasants. It seems Douffet confuses fiction and nonfiction in her world. She is fired.

Sound boring? It could be. But understand, this is a British comedy and satire. You listen for the tongue-in-cheek, the insults, and the British class system jibes. Nicklin and Hubbard deliver this well.

When Douffet is called to the London office, she likens the summons to a trial. Upon being dismissed, she removes an outer garment to reveal red lace, much as Queen Anne may have worn at her execution, at least in the world according to Douffet.

In Act Two, Schoen visits Douffet with a peace offering: a letter of reference and a job suggestion. Douffet is blown away at the kindness and offers Schoen a liquid offering of her own — a rather strong liquid Schoen drinks often on the visit. Before visiting a nearby dinner club that night that the administrator is a member of, Douffet leaves the room to fetch a cloak. When she returns, Schoen has her head hanging on the side of a chair. “Do it,” she says. Finally, Douffet grabs Schoen’s head and rips a wig off, just as Queen Anne’s was centuries earlier.

Colin Davies as Mr. Bardolph and Pat Nicklin as Lettice Douffet in ‘Lettice and Lovage.’ Photo by Matt Liptak.

The Lettice role was originally written by Shaffer for Dame Maggie Smith. It was never meant to be great theater. However, with a strong Lettice, the play works and Nicklin carries the night.

She speaks a kind of flowery Victorian prose with a dose of Shakespeare, no doubt taught by her mother. Beyond her dialogue, Lettice is enchanting because of her character, which seems to be plucked out of time and deposited in a dreary apartment in London.

Hubbard too ably assists as she metamorphoses from a stuffy bureaucrat who nurtures a phobia about cats as well as scores of other repressed emotions into a drunken cohort.

Tourists in the castle: Tegan Cohen, Nicole Gray, Nicole Lamberson, Colin Davies, James Blacker in ‘Lettice and Lovage.’ Photo by Matt Liptak.

I could not tell if Director Juli Tarabek Blacker let her actors have free rein in exploring their roles or how much she guided them, but it worked. The characters kept the accents, which is a credit to dialect coach Hilary Adams.

Stage managers Kira Hogan and Ramah Johnson stood out creating three different sets. The was no break between Acts One and Two, and cast members James Blacker, Nicki Gray, and Nicole Lamberson assisted.

The play focuses on how two women see the deficiencies in their lives in each other’s strengths, Juli Blacker writes in her notes. Lettice and Lotte connect, but given the bickering and numerous loud fights the police records claim, is this a normal relationship?

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, including one intermission.

Lettice and Lovage plays through March 18, 2023 (Wednesday to Saturday at 8 pm,  Sunday at 3 p.m.) presented by The Little Theatre of Alexandria at 600 Wolfe St., Alexandria, VA.  Tickets ($24) can be purchased at the door, by email, and online. 

COVID Safety: Masks are required while inside the auditorium during evening and matinee performances. Masks are strongly recommended but optional in the lobby, green room, and restrooms.

Lettice and Lovage
Written by Peter Shaffer
Produced by sheri ratick stroud and Griffin Voltmann
Directed by Juli Tarabek Blacker

Costume Designer: Joan Lawrence
Lighting Designer: JK Lighting DesignSound Designer: Manuel Medina
Set Designer: Julie Fischer
Stage Manager: Kira Hogan and Ramah Johnson
Master Electrician: Kimberly Crago
ME assistants: Silas Andrews, Lloyd Bittinger, Pam Leonowich, Zell Murphy, Cleo Potter, Donna Reynolds, Sherry Singer Rakestraw, Wendy Sneff, Paul Volden

Lettice Douffet: Patricia Nicklin
Surly Man: James Blacker
Various Visitors: Nicki Gray; Nicole Lamberson
Lotte Schoen: Rachael Hubbard
Miss Farmer: Tegan Cohen
Mr. Bardolph: Colin Davies


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