Enchanted April

Reviewed by Jennica Hill

 

I’m enchanted with Enchanted April


Perhaps using a word from the title itself is too trite, though. How about some other “e” words? Enamored…enlightened…enlivened…elated? All apply.

Enchanted April by Matthew Barber, made extra special by The Weird Sisters Theatre Project and hosted by Out of Box Theatre in Marietta, was well attended for an opening night.
From the moment producer Rachel Frawley gave the opening speech, I had a feeling I was in for a heart-warming and artistically fulfilling experience. This was the first Weird Sisters production I was able to catch, and I am now an official fan.

As Miss Frawley announced, the Weird Sisters specialize in plays produced by women, for everyone. However, I certainly felt Enchanted April was produced (and written) quite heavily for the female spirit. Though men will certainly enjoy the play, women will especially understand and internalize the soul-crushing experience of a society plagued by controlling and self-conscious men in charge—and the need for a true escape from reality, since mostly women are burdened by the physical and emotional labor of taking care of home, family, and since modern times, career. Not to mention, the ladies in this story take charge of their economic independence by renting a vacation home on their own…but that is a subject for another essay entirely!

Point is: the feminist tones tickled me greatly. The play was clearly written in 2003, even though its setting is post-WWI 1920s, since the women in this story are fully allowed to bemoan the presence of their husbands and the feeling of being trapped in a life they no longer love, without worrying too much about male audiences becoming outraged. The sarcastic comedy of the female characters is obvious, which was certainly highlighted by the smart and purposeful acting and directing choices of this production. Oh, and the women in the play mention more than once how ecstatic (another “e” word) they are to be on vacation WITHOUT ANY MEN.

At the start of the play, Lotty Wilton, played by the whimsical and engaging Shelli Delgado, tells the audience a story of an acacia tree grown out of a man’s walking stick—a metaphor that comes up later in the play. Soon, though, we see Lotty, a London housewife, find an ad in the paper for an Italian vacation home for the entire month of April with the promise of “sunshine and wisteria,” urging another unhappy London woman from her women’s club Rose Arnott, played with complexity by Amanda Cucher, to join. Lotty claims to “see things”, including an image in her mind of the two women enjoying a vacation in Italy—without their husbands—as an escape.

After realizing they need help paying the rent for the place, Lotty and Rose are joined by the modern and attractive Caroline Bramble (Maggie Birgel) and curmudgeon-y widow Mrs. Graves (Holly Stevenson), who agree to pay their share to enjoy the sunshine and wisteria. Lotty and Rose let the owner of the property Antony Wilding (J.L. Reed) believe they are two of many London widows after the war, rather than admitting they are hoping for a lady vacation and actually have husbands waiting at home. After the four women arrive, the time spent in the sun and among the flowers begins to heal them, like it tends to do, and each of their individual emotional wounds begin to emerge from under their previously stifling, tight-lipped English ways.

The vivacious and delightfully vindictive Costanza (Stephanie LeeAnn Earle) is the property’s cook and caretaker of the bunch, as Lotty and Rose realize after only nine days that they want to spend their vacation with their husbands after all. Meanwhile, Mrs. Graves begins to thaw, and Caroline Bramble’s personal tragedy rises to the surface of her mod-1920s exterior, as all the characters learn the magic of this place where they have come to spend an enchanted month of April—or paradiso, as Lotty calls it.

Once Lotty refers to couples as “The Roses” and “The Carolines,” the women’s first names rather than the last names of the men folk, I solidly knew this play was speaking directly to my female-centered soul. I adored all the performances, from Delgado’s contagious love of life as Lotty and Cucher’s deeply intelligent portrayal of a woman awakening from tragedy, to Birgel’s elegant sadness as Caroline and Stevenson’s crusty and lovable work as Mrs. Graves. Oh, and I was also partial to every minute of Josh Brook’s portrayal of controlling husband Mellersh Wilton and Topher Payne’s exploration of Frederick Arnott, a man deeply in love with his wife who uses his scandalous author identity as a form of escape. Reed as Wilding was absolutely charming, and Earle nailed the Italian accent and trope-esque comedy of Costanza.

I was also impressed with the set, lighting, and sound design, which set the mood for each act perfectly in a small space with limited resources.

The first act’s setting was billowing and gray, just like a rainy and mildly depressing English day, with proper rugs and small tables adorned with sterile white tablecloths. In the second act, the sun and wisteria come out to play, with beautiful flowers adorning a warm Italian veranda, waking the audience up from their English slumber just as the characters are healed by the sunshine.

Here’s the thing: the ending came far too soon. In fact, that would be my only criticism. In a way, the acting overcame the scope of the written play—as if Matthew Barber had not anticipated his words living so fully within a set of actors that he would have needed to write more. The first act alerted the audience to a melancholy living within the characters and the strife in the marriages of Lotty and Rose, and the second act felt like the oozing of a wound that has only begun to heal. However, it was just after my heartstrings had been pulled in the characters’ direction, and I felt things opening up that the play ended. In fact, Delgado delivered her final monologue to the audience with tears in her eyes. Perhaps they were meant as happy tears, but to me they felt full of regret and the need to keep healing. With the problems all the characters were dealing with, certainly one month at an Italian villa would not fully erase them. 

Although…perhaps that’s the idea.

Enchanted April left me thinking about how emotionally constipated I felt after seeing a very complicated relationship between Caroline and Rose’s husband Frederick suddenly resolve without much explanation and the marriage between Lotty and what I took to be a very odious husband Mellersh immediately reignite (though Mellersh had not yet apologized for telling Lotty she didn’t need to be happy and only needed to exist); but it also left me thinking about the power of being seen.

At one point in the second act, Lotty tells a heartbroken Rose she had not been listening before, but since they are now sisters, she is listening now. The talented Delgado nearly choked with emotion while speaking these words, because I think she knows why this play is so uncomplicatedly special: we all just want to be seen and heard. We just hope someone one day will really listen and see us for our hidden scars.

For the characters in Enchanted April, their Italian vacation was not only about sunshine and wisteria, although that helped, but it was also about taking a step back (as Mellersh would say) to really see each other and not feel so alone. In her final monologue, Lotty says they all felt a wind against their backs at the end of April, knowing their “befores” were behind them and their “afters” had just begun. She says they went back the next April—hopefully for more healing, since I didn’t feel satisfied by the first trip. In this play, the “befores” happened in a time when people neglected to see each other’s pain, and the “afters” became a time when they finally stopped to take an honest look at each other’s hearts.

Well, for my two cents, I’m glad I now live in a time after seeing Enchanted April. If even in a small way, I am better after having experienced this production, put together by a clearly passionate and thoughtful cast and crew. As a response to director Kate MacQueen director’s note in the program, I am so glad I was “a little selfish” and took the time to see this play.