Lettice and Lovage

NCSU Theatrefest
Through June 17

In a London office, a dowager docent named Lettice Douffet is being called on the carpet for her increasingly disconcerting habit of embellishingor fabricating, actuallythe script she uses while conducting tourists through the accurately named Fustian House, verifiably one of the most stately, and sedate, homes of Great Britain. Her tips (another no-no) have grown along with the hyperbole, but there have been complaints about a certain lack of facts. When grilled by Ms. Schoen, her superior at the historic trust, she claims, “It’s the fault of the house. It’s the most boring home in England. Nothing’s happened in it for 400 years!”

No, Thelma and Louise they’re not. But playwright Peter Shaffer still unexpectedly sets us up, in the first act of Lettice and Lovage, for a comedy of two middle-aged women against the modern world. Douffet is an antiquities scholar just theatrical enough to know when history needs a good rewrite. Schoen, as we’ll learn, has engaged in a revolt all her own against a similar lack of architectural imagination. The cause that separates them at the start will ultimately unite them, in a script still a bit too pat to be believed.

Director John McIlwee finds more in Shaffer’s first two acts than the theatrically slimmer versions of this show we’ve previously seen. Still, things start to drag in a belabored “re-creation of the crime” scene in the third act. JoAnne Dickinson ably graces Lettice’s over-the-top-ness, even if she seemed at points more in dialogue with the audience than with her comrades on stage. Meanwhile, Lynda Clark was spot-on as the peevish Ms. Schoen.

Designer David Jensen experiments with digital animation as set design, as the blank upper walls on stage were bedecked with projected scenery that changed in different scenes. Unfortunately, high definition has yet to reach the theater world: At this magnification, the corners and details of posters, paintings and other objects seemed feathered and blurred. Also, in those parts of the set not corrected by stage lights, Dickinson and Clark both occasionally appeared to be wearing the projected wall designs: an extra laugh in an evening with no shortage of them.