Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Enchanted April: a comedy of hope

Monique McKisson (L.) and Boots Martin

The Chautauqua Playhouse production of “Enchanted April” in Carmichael could make you think you’re in London’s West End. Not only the accents but the manner and mood are about as British as Americans can get.

Matthew Barber’s 2003 play, based on Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 romantic novel, captures the gloomy mood brought on by disillusionment with the hollow slogans of World War I. The play, though, transforms the gloom into the sunshine of hope, brought to life by an Italian spring. The only mention of the war occurs late in the play, when one character reveals that she’s a war widow.

The mood, intensified by incessant rain, hovers over the first act and echoes a parody of Chaucer by T.S. Eliot, who declared that “April is the cruelest month.” The action begins on a bare stage with a shallow backing of gray panels. Lottie Wilton (Lynnette Blaney) delivers a prologue about the inevitable “after” that follows every “before.”

The first exchange takes place on a bench, presumably at a women’s club, where, based on a newspaper “advert,” Lottie tries to recruit a dour Rose Arnott (Richanne Baldridge) to join her in a group vacation at a sunny villa in Italy. The big obstacle is getting away from their respective husbands.

Lottie’s lawyer husband, Mellersh (Michael Walker) is the quintessential English stuffed shirt for whom everything has its place, including women. In contrast Rose’s Frederick (Walter Thompson) is a poet turned romance novelist in pursuit of money. Each puts his foot down against the ladies’ project, but to no effect.

Completing the quartet signing on to the project are a glamorous Lady Caroline (Julie Bock-Betschart) and an aging and hard-nosed Mrs. Graves (Boots Martin), who conditions her agreement on a promise of wisteria and sunshine.

The second act is a complete transformation. Jerry Sutherland’s lavish set gives us a dining room gazing out to the sea. Next to it a gate leads to a garden and a pathway to the beach. Adding to the group is an excitable servant, Costanza (Monique McKisson), exploding into voluble Italian, especially when confronted by a demanding Mrs. Graves. Also on hand is the Villa’s owner, Antony Wilding (Warren Harrison, who also directs), eager to make everybody happy.

Gradually a transformation takes place amid unforeseen complications. Invited by telegram as an afterthought, the husbands arrive and almost get caught in an embarrassing coincidence. To top it off, Mellersh is victimized by an exploding shower. He arrives on the scene wrapped in a towel, which he almost drops. But we’re spared the full Monty. Somehow, everybody rises above the stress and finds the longed-for “after” that follows their dismal “before.”

Under Harrison’s quick-paced direction we see a joyous transformation come to the visitors. You can almost feel them soaking up the sun, as each contributes a compelling performance. Don’t be surprised to see a few Elly nominations (local equivalent to Oscars).

“Enchanted April” continues through March 15 at the Chautauqua Playhouse, 5325 Engle Road in the La Sierra Community Center in Carmichael. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Admission is $17 general and $15 for students, seniors, children and SARTA members. Call (916) 489-7529 (PLAY). See also


Alan Almeida said...

A wonderful cast, a fantastic Production. I loved it! A must see!

Anonymous said...

ENCHANTED APRIL is a wonderful, witty and funny show. VERY well done!