by Rita Charleston
“With a horrific hairstyle that made me look just like a boy, I played Christopher Robin in a local production of Winnie the Pooh when I was 10 years old.” That’s Claire Golden Drake describing her theatrical beginnings in Wales. Since that time, and moving to the U.S., she’s appeared in many roles at many local theaters, and can now be seen in Peter Shaffer’s play “Lettice and Lovage” at Allens Lane Art Center, 601 West Allens Lane. The show concludes this weekend. (Ed. Note: Lovage is an herb in the parsley family.)
Drake plays Lotte Schoen, a. character who runs a preservation trust that is in charge of a stately English home. Lettice Douffet is the docent at the home who is fired for lavishly embellishing the house’s past. Although adversaries in the beginning, a mutual love of history, beauty and drama leads Lettice and Lotte into an unlikely alliance.
Drake is the wife of Chestnut Hill-born and bred Carl Drake, owner of Drake’s Gourmet Food and Catering at 8419 Germantown Ave. They married in 2000 and today, as the parents of three, live in Erdenheim.
Looking back, Drake, 38, admits that from the moment she first stepped out on stage she loved it and never thought of doing anything else. Fortunately, her dad worked for an American company in Wales, and Drake became friends with the owners who would sometimes invite her over here to stay with them. And when they heard of her ambitions, they offered to sponsor her and give her an opportunity to attend the University of the Arts if she was admitted. She was, and began earning her BFA in 1995 and getting roles almost immediately.
In the beginning, Drake said she happily accepted many roles — until her children came along. Now she only does one or two shows a year and never back-to-back. “My family is my first priority, so although I love acting, I also love spending time with them.”
Drake has appeared at Allens Lane several times in the past, but says she’s having an especially good time doing this show, having an enriching experience working with people she’s never worked with before. “Going into the rehearsal process without knowing anyone and not knowing what would happen because of that was a bit daunting at first. Putting yourself out there in front of strangers can be difficult. But we all got along great straight away, and now I’ve made fulfilling connections.”
Explaining how her character works, Drake says it’s important for her to try to find something she can identify with. Otherwise, she adds, it would seem fake. “Lotte is not me, but we do have lots of similarities, and I work hard to find them to better understand where she’s coming from.”
For example, she continues, Lotte displays some insecurities that Drake admits to having as well. “I definitely hold back like she does until I’m comfortable around people and find a connection. I sometimes have trouble seeing how the world is progressing and keeping up with it as I see things changing around me. I also connect with Lotte’s struggles with wanting to do the right thing. Truth is very important to her and to me as well, and having the courage to stand up for your convictions.”
The difficulty in making this show work began with the fact that Donna McFadden, who plays Lettice, and Drake share the stage most of the time. “We have so many lines playing such meaty characters that in the beginning we were often critiquing ourselves, which took away from the enjoyment of the roles. But we soon relaxed into our parts so that we were able to just go out there and enjoy our characters.”
For Drake, engaging with other actors on stage and feeling a connection is one of the best parts of being an actress. “And hearing the laughter and approval and enjoyment of the audience makes it so worthwhile. After all, this business is all about bringing joy to people.”
Tickets to “Lettice and Lovage” can be purchased at the door or reserved online at www.allenslane.org. For more information, call 215-248-0546.