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Lettice & Lovage: A Pleasant Excursion

By Geri Sereno

Special to Little Rhody

     It seems completely apropos that a theater in Newport should do a play about guided home tours. And even more so, that it be presented in one of the city’s historic landmarks.

     The Firehouse Theater, at Equality Park Place, is currently giving Peter Shaffer’s comical play, Lettice & Lovage, a charming interpretation in it’s antiquated home. Director Sharon Coleman expertly and cleanly leads her talented actors around the theater’s limited stage space without physical incident, and adroitly uses it close boundaries to full advantage.

    The plot revolves around the inventive effort put forth by Lettice Douffet, a tour guide with an artistic flair, who haplessly finds herself leading patrons through an old edifice that can boast only a rather inconsequential history. Miss Douffet is forced to significantly stretch the truth and create intrigue where it here-to-fore never existed, in order to fascinate not only her audience, but herself as well.

     Following up on numerous letters of objection, Charlotte Schoen, who works for the Preservation Trust, pays a surreptitious visit to the tour. After witnessing Miss Douffet’s fabricated history, she curtly chastises the guide and releases her from service. Through artful protestation at her dismissal, Lettice manages to generate sympathy from the staunch board member. Guilt eventually motivates Miss Shoen into finding her former employee a new position, and the two forge a most unlikely friendship.

     Barbara Finelli gives a highly credible performance in the role of Lettice Douffet. She presents the character’s unconventional approach to life with subtle humor, and wins the audience over with stylish lunacy. From time to time, there are moments when it is apparent that she is groping for stray words from her quite sizable monologues. Nonetheless, she manages to keep herself in the moment, the action flowing, and her slight hesitations become negligible. 

    Cindy Killavey is convincingly restrained as the reticent board member, Charlotte Schoen. She handily reveals her covetous longing to experience a life touched by eccentricity, by giving understated envious glances.  Killavey delightfully evolves her character from haughty to dotty with carefully timed transition.

    Doing a one weekend stint in the role of Schoen’s doting assistant Miss Framer, was Nancy Abbott. She completely captured her role and claimed total possession of this somewhat vacant persona. Abbott skillfully offered up a crafted character who serves tea with a broad smile and an endearing expression.

    As it turns out, this production is a Killavey family affair. Jim Killavey, Cindy’s husband, returns to the stage after an extended absence, as Mr. Bardoff, Douffet’s befuddled defense attorney. Their son, Brian postures as an avid Elizabethan scholar, and as another tour member, sports a most humorous, and relevant, tee shirt, focusing on the plight of hedgehogs.  

    Rounding out the cast in minor roles are Neeley Hepner and Nancy Pinto who follow Miss Douffet around the dubious Fustian House as the ever-changing tourists. Susan Wisch will return to the role of Miss Framer this weekend and will continue through its completion.

    Lettice & Lovage plays through June 14. If you are looking to spend an enjoyable evening in Newport, you may wish to plan a delightful dinner next door at Rocco’s Steakhouse and then take in the sumptuous offering at the Firehouse Theater to follow.

Lettice & Lovage ( till June 14, 2003)
Equality Park, Newport, RI
(401) 849-FIRE (3473) for reservations and further information.