On Sunday afternoon, February 1, my friend Jack and I met at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre to see “Enchanted April.” The play was written by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim. Civic’s production was directed by Jennifer Loia Alexander.
Jack and I both thought that the show felt as if it had been taken from a novel. It had a “talky,” literary feel to it, especially in the first act. Once we got used to it, though, we enjoyed it.
It is a lovely and romantic show, set in 1922 England and Italy. On the afternoon that we went, the audience included several ladies from a Red Hat club, but I saw several other couples in the audience, too. If I didn’t already have other plans, I would want to see this show again on Valentine’s Day. It made me want to drink tea with my pinkie curled…and then hug my boyfriend.
The story is of four English women who all have reasons to want a retreat from their everyday lives. The first act is about them finding each other through an adVERtisement in the newspaper and working out the details of how they will share a home in Italy for the month of April. The women are very different from each other. so at first you think, “Oh, my, this is a recipe for disaster!” However, ultimately their good English breeding serves them well.
The set in the first act is intriguing, but when the curtain rises on the second act, everyone on and off stage says, “Ahh!” (Set design by Gordon R. Strain.) For one thing, there is plenty of graceful, pale purple wisteria, just as promised in the newspaper description. And for another, the warm, airy light is both seductive and soothing – completely different from the commendable but somber rain we left behind in England. (Lighting design by Ryan Koharchik.)
The four women settle in and begin to become friends. Each woman learns or remembers something about herself, and about love, too, in the idyllic, care-free setting.
Over dinner after the show, Jack said his favorite character was Rose Arnott (Marni Lemons) “because she started out so dowdy and then bloomed into a radiant flower.” He laughed and added, “She was the one who ‘translated’ most,” referring to a joke in the show.
I liked and related to all of the women. Lotty Wilton (Carrie A. Schlatter-Schwer) seems a meek and obedient wife to ambitious and orderly Mellersh (Joshua Ramsey) but she is plucky enough, dreamer enough, to get the whole adventure going in the first place. And eventually she and Mellersh, who is quite a sexy man under his propriety, do a little blooming together as a couple.
Beautiful and fashionably “modern” Lady Caroline Bramble (Theresa Koleszar) puts up an unflappable flapper front, but she has been hurt more deeply than any of the others realize.
And obnoxious Mrs. Graves (Jolene Mentink Moffat) needs only a bit of praise and attention from a live, handsome man or two in the soft Italian air in order to loosen her death grip on the rules and her attachment to Tennyson.
In addition to Mellersh, the handsome men include writer Frederick Arnott (Tobin Strader), who may or may not be a total cad, and a painter, Antony Wilding (Sam Fain), who owns the Italian house. He is definitely a real sweetie.
Costanza, the feisty and hilarious Italian housekeeper (played by Elena Merani Marr), speaks no English but communicates just fine when the house guests treat her well, thank you very much.
The sound design by Michael J. Lasley includes sprightly pre-show music and just-right church bells.
Jean Engstrom’s costume design includes several gorgeous 1920s gowns, a fun bathing outfit, and the unexpected pleasure (for me, anyway) of a man’s damp towel. That form-fitting “costume” made me sit up and say, “Hey!” but also left just enough to the imagination.
Debbie Williams designed the hair and makeup. I started to give examples of my favorite hair-dos in the show, but really, all of them made me want to either run my fingers through them or wear them myself.
Maggie E. Ward is the stage manager. Troy Trinkle was the technical director. Julia Evinger designed the props. (I laughed more than once at Mrs. Graves’ annoying bell!) Daniel Strain was the master carpenter. Torrey Bievenour and Zach Rosing are the sound board operators.
Costume assistants included Janice Hannon, Ren Seidel, and Robin Uhrig. Gary Hall was the costume intern. Costume volunteers (are they the people who help the actors change costumes during the show, I wonder?) include Joan Callahn, Jenny Hilcz, Stephanie Kern, Karen Martin, and Gretchen Van Winkle. “Substitute” (?) is Vicki Traynor.
“Enchanted April” is enchanting. It runs through Sunday, February 15, 2009 at the Indianapolis Civic Theatre. To make a reservation, please call 317-923-4597.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com