Enchanted April

As in the novel and the film, the legit version of "Enchanted April" moves steadily though the comical shenanigans of British expatriates to a happy ending. But under Michael Wilson's perfectly paced staging, a near-flawless ensemble luxuriates in every savory moment of this journey of discovery set in motion by the efforts of one indomitable English housewife.

With:
Lotty Wilton - Nancy Bell Rose Arnott - Blake Lindsley Mellersh Wilton - Michael James Reed Frederick Arnott - Daniel Reichert Caroline Bramble - Monette Magrath Mrs. Graves - Mariette Hartley Antony Wilding - Chris Conner Costanza - Jayne Taini

As in the novel and the film, the legit version of “Enchanted April” moves steadily though the comical shenanigans of British expatriates to a happy ending. But under Michael Wilson’s perfectly paced staging, a near-flawless ensemble luxuriates in every savory moment of this journey of discovery set in motion by the efforts of one indomitable English housewife.

Michael Barber’s legit adaptation of Elizabeth Von Arnim’s romantic 1921 novel makes a perfect companion piece to Mike Newell’s 1991 film: The film basks in the sumptuous, seductive aura of the Tuscan countryside; the play unveils the rain- and fog-bound English souls who are liberated there.

As the play opens in 1922 London, the somber-toned grays of Tony Straiges’ first-act sets certainly evoke the right mood for introducing the two main protagonists, Lotty Wilson (Nancy Bell) and Rose Arnott (Blake Lindsley). Both ladies are subjugated by their repressive, lifeless roles as housewives to self-serving husbands. But it is Lotty who launches herself into a quest for liberation when she spies a newspaper ad offering the rental of a Tuscan villa for the month of April.

Bell’s Lotty is a laser beam of positive energy that transforms a very doubtful, emotionally wounded Rose into a staunch ally. As the ladies begin to bond, the personality of Lindsley’s Rose, which at first appears inhibited to the point of catatonia, eventually reveals a keen intelligence and a delicious, deadpan wit. Bell and Lindsley admirably play off each other as the duo search for two more ladies to share expenses at the villa.

The quest for villa mates offers a theatrically rewarding device to introduce two diverse personalities, the deceptively flippant Lady Caroline (Monette Magrath) and the demanding Mrs. Graves (Mariette Hartley),

Caroline is a high-living aristocratic flapper, desperately seeking a refuge from her current life. Immersing herself within Caroline’s privileged persona, Magrath actually appears to glide across the ground that the other earthbound ladies merely trod.

Hartley, as the autocratic Mrs. Graves with the defensive armor of a citadel, has the manner down, even if her ramrod, elongated stature doesn’t quite match the supposed age of a woman who had hobnobbed with early 19th century British poets.

The second act is almost over-powered by Straiges’ hypnotically beautiful Tuscan villa veranda setting, bathed in the burnt gold wash of Rui Rita’s lighting. As each of the women becomes enveloped by the restorative effect of this sun-soaked Italian holiday, it becomes apparent that, for Lotty and Rose, their pleasure will not be complete without a reconciliation with their respective husbands, both of whom were unceremoniously dumped by their wives a few weeks earlier. Their arrival at the villa takes the action to a heightened level of discovery.

The men are decidedly supporting players in this yarn, but they are impressively realized. Mellersh Wilton, Lotty’s pompous solicitor spouse, is portrayed with just the right amount of comical stuffiness by Michael James Reed. Nicely assuaging a more complex role, Daniel Reichert portrays the career-ambivalent Frederick Arnott, a once-promising poet who has abandoned his couplets to write historical romances under a pseudonym, much to the chagrin of Rose.

Completing the male cast is Chris Conner, who exudes an aesthetic charm as Antony Wilding, the villa landlord. And Jayne Taini nearly steals every scene as the maid Costanza, whose pidgin English irreverence is constantly running afoul of Mrs. Graves.

Amplifying the proceedings are the mood-enhancing original sounds of John Gromada and the costumes of Alejo Vietti (based on the Broadway designs of Jess Goldstein) that abet the ensemble’s transition from darkness to light, from inhibition to unrestrained joy.

Enchanted April

Pasadena Playhouse; 686 seats; $49.50 top

Production: A Pasadena Playhouse presentation of a play in two acts by Matthew Barber, based on the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim. Directed by Michael Wilson.

Crew: Sets, Tony Straiges; lights, Rui Rita; music, sound, John Gromada; costumes, Alejo Vietti, based on original designs of Jess Goldstein. Opened April 23, 2004; reviewed April 24; closes May 23. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: Lotty Wilton - Nancy Bell Rose Arnott - Blake Lindsley Mellersh Wilton - Michael James Reed Frederick Arnott - Daniel Reichert Caroline Bramble - Monette Magrath Mrs. Graves - Mariette Hartley Antony Wilding - Chris Conner Costanza - Jayne Taini

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