‘Enchanted April” at Circle Theatre is an utter delight. I suppose if this production were a movie it might receive the unfortunate “chick flick” label, but I am certain both sexes will enjoy this magical and heartwarming comedy. It’s definitely not an anti-man play. Everyone onstage ends up having a thoroughly wonderful time, a mood that seemed to be contagious on opening night.
Each character shows us it’s never too late to be transformed into a better, happier person. This upbeat production, solidly directed by Bob Knuth, is a refreshing experience – one of those rare feel-good shows that doesn’t insult us while making us smile. It sounds corny, but this play is not only about love and friendship but also rediscovering the joy of enchantment, wherever we can find it.
In 1922 two proper middle-class housewives, members of the same church but relatively unfamiliar with one another, both realize they must take a break from their overpowering husbands and their dull marriages and go on holiday together.
Lotty Wilton’s subversive impulses are ignited when she spots a tiny advertisement in the London Times about an Italian coastal castle available for rent during April. The property is said to be perfect for “those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine.” Lotty (Patricia Austin) sees this as her chance for renewal, as long as her domineering, fuddy-duddy husband doesn’t come along. She manages to rope pious, repressed Rose Arnott (Darci Nalepa), a neighbor she’s seen in church, into joining her in this once-in-a-lifetime grand escape. But how will the two women manage the expense? They decide to split the rent with a crusty old widow and a lonely young upper class rebel.
Austin is terrific as talkative Lotty, relentlessly effervescent yet totally loveable.
Mrs. Graves (Mary Redmon) is an opinionated old dowager given to constant disapproval. She abhors idle conversation and modern language. Her closest friends all seem to have been a lot of deceased Victorian writers whose names she drops a lot. Redmon is a riot playing this formidable grande dame.
Lady Caroline, played by Michelle Weissgerber, is a radiant, dark-eyed beauty, a liberated social butterfly currently on leave from sex. She’s a high society flapper fed up with the men who generally swarm around her.
Each of the four actresses has a chance to really stand out. These women are from different classes and life stages, yet each is at somewhat of a turning point. They share a common need to shed their old skins and reinvent themselves in a sunny setting. Once they’re transplanted onto the Italian Riviera, the vacationing ladies begin to bloom like the wisteria.
Lotty’s husband, played by Derek Czaplewski, is a pompous, bossy lawyer who firmly believes a woman’s place is in the home. His wife can never seem to please him, yet Czaplewski is such a first-rate comedian he doesn’t make us hate the guy. He’s especially hilarious in his fleeting nude scene following a catastrophe involving a malfunctioning ancient Italian bathtub.
Rose’s sarcastic, globe-trotting writer husband (Brian Rabinowitz) has a taste for jazz and an eye for the ladies. In fact, he may already know devil-may-care dancer Lady Caroline.
When the charming owner of the Italian seaside castle shows up, played by Michael Gonring, his male presence seems to enliven the women even further.
Terri Lopez is a wise-cracking Italian maid who speaks only fractured English but it never seems to matter.
Before long, all the characters, even the left-behind spouses, end up at the Italian villa.
The first act carefully establishes its drab London settings as so dark and dreary they’re almost funereal. Act Two is breathtakingly sunny and radiant. Bob Knuth’s nicely lit set is in joyous full bloom, spilling over with sunlight and luscious wisteria.
Lots of care has gone into evoking the 1920s period. Suzanne Mann’s sumptuous costumes range from an almost upholstered look for the haughty old lady to the silky Art Deco gowns of the wildly liberated jazz belle.
The early ’20s were a time when many English women were war widows and those who weren’t had begun to re-evaluate and redefine their roles.
Peter J. Storms’ sound design does much to heighten the moods and settings, such as the noise of the train that takes Lotty and Rose on the first leg of their journey.
Matthew Barber’s 2003 play is based on a bestselling 1922 “ladies novel” of the same name by Elizabeth Von Arnim. You may also remember a 1992 English film version of this story.
Monica Wilson is assistant director. Kclare Kemock is stage manager. Terri Lopez was the dialect coach.