Mother Road’s “Enchanted April” is a Charming Mix of Sentiment and Humor With Fine Acting

Mother Road Theatre Company has opened its eighth season in its new home at the Keshet Center for the Arts with a delightful production of “Enchanted April.” The play has an interesting history. It is based on a 1922 novel by “Elizabeth” [von Arnim]. The novel was adapted for the stage in 1925, filmed by RKO in 1935 and Mirimax in 1992, turned into “a musical romance” in 2010 and a BBC Radio serial in 2015. It is, however, the stage adaptation by Matthew Barber that won the Tony Award for Best Play in 2003 and is on offer by Mother Road under the excellent direction of William R. Stafford.

“Enchanted April” presents four very different English women who share a month together away from their worldly concerns. The women are carefully delineated in the script and superbly performed by the cast members. The play is divided into two acts. The first takes place in dreary, rainy London a few years after World War I. In a Woman’s Club, Lotty Wilton, endlessly trapped between sadness at the emptiness of her marriage and ebullient optimism that the future holds hope, is captivated by a small “Times” advert offering—“to those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine”—a small Mediterranean castle in Northern Italy to rent for April. Lotty feels that it was written for her.

Another lady, slim and stern Rose Arnott, is also reading the ad. Lotty excitedly intrudes on Rose’s reverie in a most un-British way, suggesting that she can see the two of them on a heavenly Italian holiday. Without their husbands. Rose is willing to listen.

We then meet the husbands. Mellersh Wilton has the personality one might expect from a man with the Christian name Mellersh. He is a prim solicitor, distant and condescending to his wife, probably without knowing what he is doing to their relationship.

Rose’s husband Frederick is a contrast. Under the pen name of “Florian Ayers” he writes salacious, popular biographies and sees himself as “a weak and wicked man.” He is about to leave on a book tour through April.

All that is left for the first act is to find two more female companions for the trip. The first is Lady Caroline Bramble, an attractive debutante/flapper anxious to flout conventional behavior and avoid men “always grabbing and making eyes.” The second is Mrs. Graves, an imperious and opinionated Victorian widow who, as a child, met Carlyle, Arnold, and Tennyson. She expects her commands to be treated with appropriate respect.

After intermission we are whisked to wispy wisteria land—San Salvatore in Mezzago, Italy—wonderfully captured by set designer Colby Martin Landers. This setting acts like the magical forests where the lovers in Shakespeare’s early comedies become the people they wish to be and the couples are properly sorted out. While the plot is as gossamer as the atmosphere, the play’s humor tempers its sentiment. The husbands are invited to the castle and the pleasant ending is earned. The acting keeps us enchanted.

In Italy we meet Costanza, the housekeeper/cook merrily played by Barbara Geary. Although Constanza speaks only Italian, Geary’s expressive face makes her meaning clear. She is a hoot. Castle landlord Antony Wilding, portrayed by Mark Hisler, is a firm center around which the characters revolve. Wilding’s representation is fine.

Brennan Foster and Clifton Chadwick play the husbands Mellersh and Frederick with skill and imagination so that we can understand what their wives saw in them and can see again.

It is the four traveling women who make the show. Carolyn Wickwire is simply wonderful as the curmudgeonly Mrs. Graves. Wickwire makes her character’s decompression as real as it is welcome. Beautiful Jessica Quindlen (the last time I saw her she was playing Helen of Troy) is an ideal Lady Caroline. While her character tries to purge her ennui with cognac, Quindlen convinces us that there is more to Caroline than simply meets the eye.

Jen Stephenson never falters in her upbeat portrayal of the conflicted Lotty who is responsible for the remarkable transformation that takes place at San Salvatore. Stephenson’s character maintains a mystical optimism and seems to will it into reality.

Catherine Haun is excellent as Rose. Her character undergoes perhaps the greatest metamorphosis in the play. Haun captures the “disappointed Madonna” as well as the reinvigorated wife in her character.

It takes a dour soul not to wish with Lotty “that some enchantment would step in for us all, to change what we have into what we wish for.”

It takes a dour soul not to wish with Lotty “that some enchantment would step in for us all, to change what we have into what we wish for.”

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One thought on “Mother Road’s “Enchanted April” is a Charming Mix of Sentiment and Humor With Fine Acting

  1. Well done, Barry, I saw the play last night and on opening night. Still a great delight with Lottie’s upbeat views winning at the end.

    Like

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