Review: ‘Enchanted April’ at Aldersgate Church Community Theater

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Aldersgate Church Community Theater presents Matthew Barber’s Enchanted April. Directed by Marzanne Claiborne, Enchanted April follows a group of disillusioned women who embark on a life-changing retreat in the post WWI era. While some may find the material somewhat dated, it is also charming and was considered a bold, audacious feat for its time. The cast and crew do a great job with the material!

Nic Barta, Madeline Byrd, and Melissa Dunlap in Enchanted April. Photo by Michael deBlois.

This play is about revitalization, and every technical aspect highlights the changes well. Set Designer Charles Dragonette uses a bare-bones set for act one, with minimal spotlighting by Franklin Coleman. The atmosphere is dreary and bleak, all the way down to the relentless rainfall from sound designer Alan Wray.

However, once the women find themselves on their trip in act 2, the curtain opens to gasps and applause from the audience. The stage has transformed itself into a beautiful garden patio on the Italian seaside, with colorful flowers spilling from every surface. Set construction was led by Becky Patton and the set was painted by De Nicholson-Lamb. The scenery is very detailed and impressive, and the contrast is stark, vibrant, and significant. Costume Designer Juliana Cofrancesco highlights character development with her outfits, most notably a conservatively dressed (alright – frumpy) woman who is moved to lighten up and let her hair down – literally!

When Lotty Wilton reads an advertisement for an Italian castle available for rent during the month of April, she becomes enamored with the idea of a vacation without her stifling husband, Mellersh (Richard Isaacs). Unable to afford the rental alone, she ropes in her dour acquaintance, Rose Arnott (Melissa Dunlap), who also yearns for a break from wedded “bliss” from her husband Frederick (Joel Durgavich).

With two more slots to fill, the women persuade Lady Caroline Bramble (Alexandra Guyker) and Mrs. Graves (Eleanor Tapscott) to join their party. Lady Caroline is glamorous, provocative, and the complete foil to Mrs. Graves, whose manners, sensibilities, and fashion remained firmly rooted in the 1800’s. While already a scandalous notion (remember, women traveling alone or without their husbands during this time were considered a spectacle), the women are all very different from each other and must find a way to steer a peaceful course through the month of April.

Madeline Byrd and Richard Isaacs in Enchanted April. Photo by Michael deBlois.

A thrilling month it is, too. As the ladies deal with the fallout from their shocked husbands, secrets and revelations from fellow lodgers, and the charming presence of landowner Antony Wilding (Nic Barta), their characters and values are tested.

The cast is well rounded, and all do a fine job with their roles. Madeline Byrd delivers boundless energy as Lotty Wilton, an optimistic (and perhaps a bit naive) young woman who talks a mile a minute, much to the annoyance of her companions. Eleanor Tapscott gets a lot of laughs as the demanding and intimidating Mrs. Graves, her outrageous delivery outdone only by Anne Hilleary, who is a quick audience favorite as Costanza, their put-upon Italian maid.

Invigorating and satisfying, the inclusive nature of Enchanted April is timeless and remains relevant even today. When a thrilled Lotty throws her arms into the air and exclaims, “I have been translated!” you can’t help but smile wide for her.

Aldersgate Church Community Theater’s production of Enchanted April is an excellent choice for those who adore dialogue-driven period pieces (fellow Downton Abbey fans – I’m looking at you!)

Enchanted April plays through July 22, 2018, at Aldersgate Church Community Theater—1301 Collingwood Road, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, purchase them online.

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