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Enchanted April

It's amazing what a change of scene can do for our spirits, often despite our efforts to resist the influences of other cultures and climes. In Matthew Barber's creative adaptation of Elizabeth Von Arnim's 1922 best-selling novel, Enchanted April, it is the sights and smells of the Tuscan countryside and coastline that prove irresistibly intoxicating.

(Left to right) Haley Johnson as Lottie and Leslie Randle Chapman as Rose
(L to R) Haley Johnson as Lottie and
Leslie Randle Chapman as Rose
Four remarkably different Englishwomen, united only by their unhappy circumstances and desire to escape the incessant, dreary storms of February, meet in the process of renting a villa in Portofino for the month of April.

Barber's Tony Award-nominated (2003) script deftly gathers glimpses of the four principals in the first act. Lottie Wilton (Haley Johnson) is the first to read the Times' ad for a castle getaway, then persuades Rose Arnott (Leslie Randle Chapman), a member of her women's club, to share the cost. Together, they set out to recruit two other strangers to help make ends meet.

As Lottie, Johnson's effervescence and enthusiasm for the sojourn is infectious, providing the catalyst for the tenuous association between these women from different post-World War I British castes.

(Left to right) Leslie Randle Chapman as Rose, Kendra Crain McGovern as Lady Caroline, Haley Johnson as Lottie, and Paige Lynn Larson as Mrs. Graves
(L to R) Leslie Randle Chapman as Rose,
Kendra Crain McGovern as Lady Caroline,
Haley Johnson as Lottie,
and Paige Lynn Larson as Mrs. Graves
Lottie's claim to see the future hooks Rose, while her shrewd deal-making assuages the distraught, oh-so-modern flapper, Lady Caroline (Kendra Crain McGovern) and the imperious, old-school Mrs. Graves (Paige Lynn Larson).

Randle's undercurrent of trepidation and refined facial expressions, McGovern's languid elegance and emotional mysteries, and Larson's regal bearing and piercing barbs add depth and dynamics to Johnson's eccentric glue.

Haley Johnson as Lottie, Christian Mast as Mellersh, and Linda Suttle as Costanza
Haley Johnson as Lottie,
Christian Mast as Mellersh,
and Linda Suttle as Costanza
Christian Mast, as Mellersh Wilton, Lottie's husband, finds a well-tempered path from upper- crust British fastidiousness and male chauvinism to infatuated romantic.

David Blumenstock is dashing as Rose's husband, Frederick—a struggling novelist turned successful writer of bodice-ripping pulp fiction who goes by the pseudonym Florian Airs—navigating the swift waters from his depressed wife to his fetching mistress and back again to his transformed partner.

James O'Hagan Murphy, as Antony Wilding, is suave and seductive as the transplanted English host of the seaside estate, charming his guests and disarming their reservations with free-flowing compliments and artistic airs.

Of course, there is the hired help, Costanza, who speaks only Italian. Linda Suttle is a commedia chorus of musical chatter as the loyal, big-hearted and, at times, exasperated domestic diva.

Director Richard H. Pegg, who brought the script to Miners Alley, imaginatively dresses up the first act and orchestrates its literary rhythms with aplomb, topping it all off by asking Ann Piano to costume the cast to the nines. You have to see these dresses, hats and shoes!

Long before Tuscany became a jet-set destination and the Mediterranean diet an enlightened standard, the region was a refuge from chilly Northern European winters for those who had the wherewithal and time to book passage by ship and train. Its charms and enchantments are evident in this poignant romantic comedy.

Miners Alley Playhouse's production of Enchanted April runs through September 13th. 303-935-3044.

Bob Bows

 

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