5 Questions for...Kandis Chappell, lead in Playhouse comedy
Updated 4:19 pm, Friday, June 16, 2017
WESTPORT — With less than a week to prepare for the lead role of Miss Lettice Douffet in “Lettice and Lovage,” Kandis Chappell fully immersed herself in the role, allowing the actress to put on the best show possible at the Westport Country Playhouse.
Chappell replaced 83-year-old Patricia Conolly just days before opening night on June 1, due to an illness. Luckily, Chappell, 69, is not a stranger to the role of Lettice, playing the role previously, over two decades ago in California.
An associate artist of The Old Globe Theater in San Diego, Chappell has performed over 30 times there. She has also traveled the nation, acting in plays at venues including at the Intiman Theatre in Seattle, on Broadway and at Lincoln Center in New York City and in Connecticut on the Hartford Stage, among others.
To give Chappell a little time to brush up on the role, WCP cancelled the May 30 and 31 productions, with Chappell taking over from June 1 through June 17.
Chappell will star opposite Mia Dillon, who plays Miss Lotte Schoen. Dillon herself is no stranger to stepping into roles last minute. Last winter, Dillon was called in to replace a lead for “Cloud 9” at the Hartford Stage and had just a weekend to prepare for opening night.
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Q: What is your favorite part about performing at the Westport Country Playhouse?
A: The people — past and present.
It’s very exciting to join the ranks of actors who have performed here throughout the theater’s long history. I can’t walk to my dressing room without stopping to look at the pictures that line the halls.
There is a small patch of the original stage floor remaining in the backstage area. I stand on it just for a moment before the curtain goes up, gathering strength from the spirits of all the actors who have trod those boards.
As for the people at the Playhouse today — from Artistic Director Mark Lamos and the cast, through the creative team, and the Playhouse staff, right down to the interns who arrived only a few days before I did — I have rarely met such a generous, supportive, talented group of people. They all pulled together and made a miracle happen: the show went on!
Q: How difficult is it to jump into a lead role on such short notice?
A: Difficult beyond description — For everyone. I have never experienced anything quite like this.
I played Lettice once before, and it is one of the most difficult roles I’ve ever taken on — her language and her energy. It’s like the K2 of roles. Then, to try to “find” her in less than a week. Madness — Frankly, a bit off more than I could chew.
It’s also tough to step in so late in the process. The other actors can’t be expected to change what they are doing, so I had to fit into what the company had rehearsed. But everyone pitched in and adjusted — just having a different person saying the lines suddenly is incredibly disconcerting — and nudged me in the right direction. Even with the terrifying time-constraint we were facing, Mark let me work at my own pace.
It has been a truly remarkable week—and I hope I never have to do it again!
Q: What do you want people to take away from the performance?
A: I may be missing something — it wouldn’t be the first time — but I don’t think this play has any great message to deliver or lesson to teach. But it is a delight.
So I just want folks to come to the theater, spend a couple of hours with these quirky, wonderful characters, and go home having had a real good time.
Q: What do you enjoy most about performing “Lettice and Lovage?”
A: Part of the pleasure is the sheer accomplishment. Staying with the K2 image, in its own way, it’s like climbing an enormous mountain and getting home safely. I have to use all my acting muscles for every performance. Pretty thrilling, actually.
Then there is the joy of this woman. She’s so positive and smart and funny, and her enthusiasm is infectious. Her motto is “Enlarge! Enliven! Enlighten!” And it feels as if that is what Lettice does for me every time.
Q: How do you go about learning such a prominent role under such tight time constraints?
A: You’d think that my having played the part before would be a big help in learning the lines, but, unfortunately, it wasn’t. I tend to forget lines very soon after a show closes, and I played Lettice 23 years ago. So I basically started from square one and the language is extremely complicated.
As soon as I got a copy of the script, I started cramming — yes, very like studying for a test. Megan Smith, our stage manager, assigned intern Rebecca Nichols to help me learn the lines, and to “run” them with me. It’s a pretty miserable job: watching the script as I try to say the lines correctly, over and over. I’m still not quite rock solid on the words.
But what did come rushing back to me is the “essence” of who Lettice is: her energy, her spirit, her enthusiasm.
So, while I may fumble my lines occasionally, Lettice is there for the audience to enjoy.