Are you ready to ditch this cold, rainy weather we’ve had and enjoy an Enchanted April? Vicariously escape to Italy to appreciate wisteria and sunshine in the Greenbelt Art Center’s charming rendition of this play by Mathew Barber. Aptly directed by Pauline Griller-Mitchell and produced by Malca Giblin, Enchanted April explores how transformative a month in paradise can really be, and don’t we all need some of that these days?
It all begins in soggy London. It is 1922. After a passionate monologue about how “loss is by nature an unbalancing thing….waiting and wondering…” and allegory storytelling by Lottie (Laurie Simonds), she encounters a woman whose only connection is they go to same church. She does have something else in common with Rose (Caity Brown) – unhappy marriages. Lottie is a cheery chatterbox in these early conversations, excitable at the enticing idea of taking a holiday away from their husbands, at an Italian castle available for rent. Rose is reticent, all about holding on to British propriety, and Brown plays her with such initial reservation that you secretly cheer when she agrees to plot for a month long escape. The two then advertise for lady “traveling companions,” who reveal their own reasons for being “stuck” and in dire need of a change of scenery.
Mrs. Graves (Pamela Northrup) is a dominating old widow who has some of the funniest lines in the show. Her grumpiness melts when the castle owner, Antony Wilding (Rich Koster) brings her her absolute favorite – English walnuts, and she is a delight to watch as she lets herself warm up to the others. Lottie, Rose and Mrs. Graves also share the castle with Lady Caroline Bramble, (Jenn Robinson) a “Modern” socialite completely bored with her life of parties and dancing, and we learn later, why this is.
When Lottie and Rose announce their leaving to their husbands, Mellersh (Jason Damasco) and Frederick (Thomas I. McGrath) you realize just how confining the relationships between them are, and how alone the wives feel, how disconnected they have become. The tension is palpable. The two scenes are played at the same time, in parallel, and the actors’ timing of the lines is tricky, but very well done. These wives may be dependent on their husbands for their “allowances,” (as was the custom nearly 100 years ago,) but how Lottie and Rose decide to spend it is jarring and off putting to the husbands.
Although the train ride to San Salvatore, has Lottie and Rose doubting themselves a’la “What have we done???,” they arrive only to find both their traveling companions, Mrs. Graves and Lady Caroline have beat them there and staked out their own rooms. What follows is a series of minor power struggles, appreciations of nature’s restorative qualities, and quiet self revelations, with some of laughs and smiles along the way. All four ladies win you over and are genuinely likable characters.
Speaking of characters, the castle’s cook and overseer is Costanza (Carleigh Jones), who speaks no English, so the guests’ requests are exercises in comic confusion. Particularly entertaining are her exchanges with the demanding Mrs. Graves. Jones has so mastered her prolonged lines in Italian, you will think she is fluent offstage as well as on. Here’s a special shout out to the Italian Dialect Coach, Kurt Riggs. There’s also a funny bit of physical humor too that is all Costanza and Mellersh’s doing.
As these five women adjust to being around each other, suddenly husbands start arriving as well as the aforementioned owner of the castle, Mr. Wilding. The dynamics begin to shift, with big epiphanies as a result, culminating with healthier outlooks on life and relationships. (No spoilers! Come see she show to appreciate the wonderful transitions these actors make.)
The first act is set in many spots in London, with many chairs and tables and tea sets, with scene changes done by two costumed servants (Ashley Adams and Sarah McCarthy.) This slows down the action a bit, and the characters exit and at times enter through long gray curtains upstage. Sometimes the audience would inadvertently get a peek at what was behind the curtains during these First Act scene changes, but it didn’t fully prepare one for the incredible rendering of Wilding’s castle for Act 2.
The scenic painting, the curved clay tile roof, the view beyond the railing, and flowers upon flowers created quite a glorious setting. Some audience members gasped as they walked back in from intermission, it was that spectacular. The program credits Maggie Modig for set design, painting and dressing, Director Pauline Griller-Mitchell and Producer Malca Giblin did double duty with both set dressing and properties, and more set painting was the work of Rich Potter and Michael Stepowany.
Congratulations to them all, as well as sound Designers Nick Sampson and Scott Bringen, Lighting Designer Den Giblin, and Costumer Linda Swann. Hair and makeup design by Malca Giblin included the literal “let your hair down” mirror the figurative sense of that in Act 2.
Collectively this production team and the cast of Enchanted April transport us to a place of true enchantment, at a time when theatergoers are eager to leave their dreary surroundings and enjoy some sunshine through a story about rediscovering our happiness.
Running Time: Two hours, with one intermission.