Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Lettice and Lovage
Novato Theater Company
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Patrick's review of The Real Thing and Richard's reviews of The Christians and Fun Home

Marsha van Broek and Sandi Rubay
Photo by Mark Clark
For Lettice Douffet, the free-spirited tour guide at the center of Lettice and Lovage, Peter Shaffer's (Equus, Amadeus) satirical comedy that opened last night at the Novato Theatre Company, the bromide of "never let facts get in the way of a good story" seems to form the basis of her philosophy of life. As a little girl, Miss Douffet's mother—an actress in a traveling all-female theatre company—told her always to "Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!" and Lettice obliges. Leading visitors through Fustian House, an old English manor, Lettice "enlivens" her tour with ever more ludicrous tales of romance and adventure than ever actually took place within its walls. This is all to the delight of tourists, much less so to Lotte Schoen, who works for the Preservation Trust, the organization that owns Fustian House.

Miss Schoen and Miss Douffet make a delightful pair of opposites, sparring throughout act one (and most of act two) before discovering shared passions that will lead them into some very odd hijinks by the end of act three. As the two leading ladies, Sandi Rubay (Lettice) and Marsha van Broek (Lotte) dive into their roles with great gusto. It's easy to see how much they enjoy both the conflicts and the commonalities of their characters, and relish Shaffer's snapping dialogue and the outrageousness of their character's actions.

Despite the performers' obvious joy in the roles, and the myriad pleasures of Shaffer's text, the actors (including the supporting roles played by Marilyn Hughes, Mark Clark and John Griffin) fall into the trap of playing more to the audience than to each other as scene partners. It's not that they truly break the fourth wall; it's more like drilling a thousand tiny holes in it to the point that the audience is always being reminded that this is a play, these characters are fictional, what is being shown is artifice and not humanity. There can be no "willing suspension of disbelief" when the performers are regularly pulling one brick after another from the invisible barrier between audience and performer.

As Lotte Schoen, Marsha van Broek brings a nice, brittle severity that works well when she and Lettice are sparring, but has trouble finding the warmer dimensions that come in later acts. Sandi Rubay's Lettice has energy aplenty, but she finds no dynamic range in the character. Rubay has a decent comic delivery, but resorts to the same rhythms and tones over and over, so that during the course of the two hour and 40 minute running time, we really only get one or two flavors of line reading, which leads to the character feeling flatter and far more boring than she ought to be—or is on the page?

There are many moments of pleasure in this production, and perhaps with a few more performances under their belts the actors will be able to better mine the richness of Shaffer's characters and story.

Lettice and Lovage runs through February 19, 2017, at the Novato Theater Company, 5420 Nave Drive, Novato. Shows are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $27 general, $24 for seniors and students, $21 for NTC members and $12 for children under 12. Tickets and additional information are available at or by calling 415-883-4498.

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