Shaffer Comedy Is Flawless Gem
Performance is Majestic
Lettice and Lovage
directed by Michael Blakemore at the Shubert Theater
Through May 10
"Fantasy floods in where fact leaves a vacuum," Miss Lettice Douffet declares in the first act of Lettice and Lovage. Lettice Douffet, played by the inimitable Julie Harris, has inherited the love of theater from her actress-mother, and she demonstrates it passionately.
But her employment as a tourguide of old British manors comes to an end when her employer, Lottie Schoen, discovers Douffet's habit of embellishing history when she finds it too dull.
Schoen also discovers, in the course of firing Douffet, a kindred spirit. The unlikely pair become friends premised on a shared hatred of the ugly, the petty and the "mere."
This may be the first comedy Peter Shaffer has written in 25 years, but it is not so out of keeping with his better known dramas.
Both Equus and Amadeus share the same pursuit of the beautiful, the same frustration with constrained quotidian life, the same mournful conviction that "lawyers and legends have little in common." Shaffer's characters ache to live in the world of legend.
Julie Harris enters that world with ease as Lettice Duffet. Harris, five-time Tony Award winner, gives a majestic yet startlingly genuine performance. She glides easily from tragic heights--shocked when she is betrayed by her best friend--to foolish silliness--teaching a barrister how to pretend to be a British drummerboy. She is, at all times, "a lady of inspirations."
Roberta Maxwell, who starred in the original Broadway cast of "Equus," has had much experience with the wild eccentricity of Shaffer characters. At first playing Lotte Schoen as a caricature of a grim dowager, Maxwell slowly transforms her into a woman with a profoundly complex history and nature.
Michael Blakemore's directing is so seamless as to be unnoticeable. The cameo performances by Marylouise Burke and John Horton are memorably funny.
This is an unarguably un-improvable production.