AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Peter Shaffer
Directed by Greg Fritsch
Presented by Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA / (650) 349-6411

Reviewed by Judy Richter

As bored as the tourists she leads through "the dullest house in England," a guide begins to embroider her stories about the history of Fustian House.

Soon the tourists are fascinated as Peter Shaffer's "Lettice and Lovage" gets under way at Hillbarn Theatre. Eventually word of her fabrications gets back to her employer, England's Preservation Trust. That's when the guide, Lettice Douffet (Monica Cappuccini), is confronted by a Trust manager, Lotte Schoen (Celia Maurice), who fires her.

Ten weeks later, though, a contrite Lotte shows up at Lettice's basement flat. The chilly air in this meeting begins to warm, especially when Lettice offers Lotte her special quaff, which includes vodka, other ingredients and an herb, lovage. Their friendship continues nicely until an unfortunate incident. Even that turns out well as the two middle-aged women figure out a new way to support themselves while making the best use of their particular skills.

Shaffer wrote this play for the great Dame Maggie Smith as Lettice. Although no one can duplicate a performer of that caliber, this play demands an actress who can carry it with long stretches of theatrical dialogue about English history and Lettice's revered actress mother. Lettice tries to live by her mother's motto, "Enlarge, enliven, enlighten."

Director Greg Fritsch's choice of Cappuccini is indeed fortuitous, for she delivers a tour de force performance throughout the three-act, two-intermission play. She's well balanced by Maurice's Lotte, whose more practical approach to life is an effective foil to Lettice's dramatic ways.

The supporting cast is good, especially Lauren Rhodes as Miss Framer, Lotte's giggly secretary; and John Baldwin as Mr. Bardolph, the solicitor who's supposed to defend Lettice after the incident with Lotte.

Although their small parts are limited to the first act, Hiedeh Honari Saghi, Lindsey DeLost, Denise Beruman and Marc Berman quickly alter their personas as successive groups of tourists through Fustian House.

Using a turntable, the set by Robert Broadfoot readily switches to different locations. Shannon Maxham's costumes are noteworthy, especially the red hats (a sly reference to the Red Hat Society for women) on one group of tourists. Valerie Clear's lighting works well, but the music in her sound design drowns out Lettice's speeches at the beginning of Acts 1 and 2. This is a greater problem in Act 1, when Lettice repeats her set speech several times. Because the audience can't hear it very well, there's not enough contrast when the music stops and she begins to insert her own details.

Otherwise, this is an engaging, enjoyable production, thanks in large part to Cappuccini's outstanding performance.

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