British playwright Peter Shaffer is best known for his international success with Equus and Amadeus. His LETTICE AND LOVAGE (playing @ Next Door Center for the Arts through Jan. 28th) is a lesser, dare I say fustian work made famous by Maggie Smith as the flamboyant tour guide with a penchant for wild embellishment. (FUSTIAN is the name Shaffer gives to the historic home on the National Preservation tour.)
Lucky for Next Door, director Brian Milauskas has two formidable actresses to play off each other to “enlarge, enliven and enlighten” the languorous script. Shana Dirik gets the plum role of Lettice, the larger than life, self proclaimed authority on all things historical. She’s simply delightful as Sarah DeLima’s charismatic nemesis.
As head of the Preservation Bureau, DeLima’s Lotte frowns on historical embroidery but in the course of the play she is transformed by Lettice and the two join forces – perhaps a little too forcefully. Milauskas gets charming performances, too, from Angela Smith as Lotte’s fussy mouse of a secretary and from Michael Levesque as the flabbergasted attorney retained when a reenactment literally gets out of hand.
The play may wander in fits and starts but the cast (and some stirring Vivaldi) keep it humming.