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Comedy follows unexpected friendship

Jessica Osbourne and Colleen Neary McClure star in “Lettice and Lovage.”

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — British tour guide Lettice Douffet conjures ever more elaborate fantasies about the strikingly dull Tudor home where she works.

Her limited means conflict with her unlimited imagination.

Visitors love her, but Lotte Schoen, a no-nonsense bureaucrat from the Preservation Trust that employs her, is appalled and promptly sacks her.

Peter Shaffer’s “Lettice & Lovage,” a comedy decrying escalating ugliness and vulgarity in the modern world, opens Friday, June 14, at the North 4th Art Center, running on weekends through June 30.

Shaffer’s quirky 1987 satire followed his dramatic masterpieces “Equus” and “Amadeus.” He wrote “Lettice” specifically for Maggie Smith.

“Lettice is kind of a lonely woman,” director Martin Epstein said. “She is a lover of history. She works as a tour guide and she embellishes history. Each time it gets bigger and bigger and more exaggerated.”

Her amusing monarchic mythology lands her in trouble with the straight-laced, veddy British Lotte. Lettice’s comic eccentricity runs aground on the reality that she’s an aging woman who’s suddenly jobless.

Lettice is the daughter of a Shakespearean actress whose cross-gender specialties were Falstaff and Richard III (she used the same pillow for her belly and her hump).

The part-German Lotte wants her beauty three-dimensional and solid. But unaccountably, the pair unite in their disgust at the ugly architecture of post-World War II Britain. Soon they’re drinking “quaff,” a mixture of mead, vodka, sugar and the herb lovage in a buffer against reality.

“As their friendship develops, they like to re-create famous trials and executions in English history,” Epstein said. “Someone looks through the window and Lettice is charged with attempted murder.

“It’s comic and it’s actually sad in a lot of ways,” Epstein continued. “Comedy is often about real life. We laugh at the saddest things.”