The time is 1922. England, still reeling from its massive loss of men—almost an entire generation—in The Great War, finds itself on the cusp of modernity. And in Enchanted April, Matthew Barber's dramatic adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnin's novel, the pull of the modern has "infected" England's women. No longer content to behave in the old, accepted ways, the ladies in the Women's Theater Company's warmly elegant production of Enchanted April break free of their stultifying culture to go on an adventure: to find Paradise!
The plot of Enchanted April is driven by vivacious Charlotte (Lotty) Wilton's realization that her life has not turned out as she had expected. This being the case, she is ripe for the opportunities extolled by an "advert" in the newspaper of "wisteria and sunshine" at a castle in Italy available for rent for the entire month of April—an offer made all the more promising by the constant rain and generally dreary weather of a London winter.
Once Lotty has made up her mind to lease the villa on her own, without her husband Mellersh, she recruits Rose Arnott, whom she has glimpsed in church, bullying (albeit charmingly) the mousy, sanctimonious, unadventuresome Rose into joining the grand adventure. To split the rent (£60 for the month), the two advertise for two roommates, adding the young, modern Lady Caroline Bramble and the older, more conservative Mrs. Graves to round out the foursome. Leaving dismal London behind, what the four discover in the sunny Italian environment changes their views of themselves, their lives and the lives of their loved ones, forever.
Barbara Krajkowski has directed the production with a firm hand so that the action keeps moving along snappily, without ever feeling rushed. The first act, which takes place in London, is performed before a black curtain, with just two tables and some chairs to suggest various London venues, but when the curtain opened in the second act to reveal the Italian castle, an audible gasp was heard from the audience—the change is that stunning!
As Lotty, Patricia Durante had me in the palm of her hand from the very first scene wherein she tells an outlandish tale of a man who planted his walking stick in the ground to mark the location of a future acacia tree, only to return to find the stick had taken root! Durante's enthusiasm for escape is so infectious that I wanted to join her myself. While it is sad that this effervescent woman faces a life of unfulfilled expectations, unappreciated by her pompous husband, the single-mindedness with which she goes about putting the scheme together is awe-inspiring. And watching her blossom under the warm Italian sun puts a smile on your face.
As her rather unwilling partner (in crime), Nancy Kutzer as Rose starts off so unassuming as to not attract notice, but the scenes with her husband Frederick reveal a tortured soul shouldering a great grief. Too, Kutzer's Rose comes to life in Italy, so much so that she is almost unrecognizable as the woman in Act I. (Right: Jason Szamreta as Mr. Wilding paints Nancy Kutzer as Rose)
Rounding out the female quartet are Ashley Kowzun as the bored, beautiful Lady Caroline, seeking to escape the busy social life os London, but also carrying a hidden sadness. And Karen Case Cook is inadvertently hilarious as Mrs. Graves, confidant of Tennyson, who just wants to spend the month sitting and remembering. Faced with these lively, modern ladies, she too does a 180 and finds a self she didn't even know she had!
The trio of men nicely complement the women. Larry Wilbur is suitably bombastic as Mellersh Wilton, a man so in love with himself that he doesn't even see the magnificence of the woman he married. He carries off a hilarious scene with a bath towel with ease, trying to maintain his dignity all the while. As racy novelist Frederick Arnott (aka Florian Ayres), Steward Schneck is quite the rake, but he manages to make the character sympathetic, showing us a man who has trouble dealing with his wife's coldness. He too has suffered a loss, but the two don't seem to be able to deal with it. And Jason Szamreta is très charmant as Mr. Wilding, the owner of Castello San Salvatore. Smitten with Rose, he shows up during their stay, livening the festivities and complicating the plot.
The entire second act, however, is stolen from under the other actors' noses by Michelle Danna as Constanza, the maid who accompanies the premises. Speaking nothing but Italian, Danna uses facial expressions and body language to convey her exasperation with the odd whims of these English ladies, bringing down the house every time she appears!
The set and props designed by Jonathan Wentz, Cindy Strom, Annette Coviello and Katie Mitchell are a wonder to behold, and Frances M. Harrison and Joan Ludwig have provided beautiful costumes appropriate to the era and the characters who wear them. The lighting by Chesapeake Westveer, Taylor Donnelly and Luke Donnelly is rather dim for Act I, as befits rainy London, but shines full tilt in the second act, which takes place in Tuscany.
Enchanted April is a bittersweet comedy, for as Lotty Wilton puts it, "for every 'after,' a 'before' must be lost." But the message the end of the play comes through loud and clear: When asked what follows an enchanted April, Lotty answers, "An enchanted May"! The Women's Theater Company's production of Enchanted April will do just that: enchant you. Don't miss it.
Enchanted April will be performed at The Parsippany Playhouse in the Parsippany Community Center, 1130 Knoll Road, Parsippany, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 3 PM through April 23. For information and tickets, call 973.316.3033 or online at www.womenstheater.org . Groups should call 908.306.0881 for tickets or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.