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Sunny Italy to shine again

The Baltimore Sun

Anyone longing for a pleasant getaway to lift winter spirits might find an idyllic vacation without leaving Annapolis in the Colonial Players' production of Enchanted April.

Italy has long been a favorite travel destination for me, and I was surprised at how well the Italian ambience was captured in the 1992 movie and in a later stage version that I caught in New York.

Presumably, the Colonial Players crew will also be adept at creating similar magic when the show opens Friday at the 108 East St. location.

Here we'll escape the winter doldrums by joining two post-World War I Englishwomen who want to get away from rainy London in 1922 by responding to a newspaper ad describing a "wisteria-covered sun-drenched Italian castle available for a month in April."

Enchanted April began as a 1922 best-selling novel by Elizabeth Van Arnim that is still in print. Seventy years after publication, it became a movie directed by Mike Newell featuring superb performances by Joan Plowright, Miranda Richardson, Polly Walker and others against breathtaking panoramic Italian scenery.

Initially, we become acquainted with a witty, insightful foursome who develop into multidimensional, compassionate and wise women, retaining their magic for those of us who treasure the 1992 film.

In 2003, a stage adaptation by Matthew Barber came to Broadway, where the story of these two unhappy English housewives who invite two other women to share costs and discover new truths during their stay in the enchanted castle created its own magic.

Having seen the show on Broadway and admired the contrast between the bleak, dark London of Act 1 and the sunny, flower-bedecked Italian villa patio of Act 2, I wondered how Colonial Players, with its in-the-round configuration, could create a similar magic.

Colonial Players President Carol Youmans said the audience will be asked to leave their seats between the two acts so that contrasting locations and sunnier climates can be created.

Although this transformation from London to Italy will create challenges, other aspects of the intimate in-the-round theater should work to Colonial's advantage. We should surely be able to gain a closer view of the actors.

For me, the film version of Enchanted April had distinct advantages over the theatrical one, in that the film actors could be viewed up close for the audience to catch every nuance of facial expression and character interaction.

In the film we can watch the transcendent changes in all four leading women - the repressed housewives Rose Arnott and Lotty Wilton, who gain empathy and new insights into their spouses - Mellersh's rigid frugality and novelist Frederick's social climbing.

We feel the gradual warming of the pompous name-dropping elderly dowager Mrs. Graves into a more joyous and less judgmental character. We observe carefree, uninhibited Lady Caroline, who moves from a self-absorbed socialite disenchanted with men to a more mature woman capable of discovering the human qualities of a new suitor.

Colonial's intimate space might allow us to observe the actors' personal growth into multidimensional characters more fully.

At a rehearsal last weekend, director Mary Fawcett Watko was engrossed in every detail of the costumes worn by actors playing the two married couples - the Arnotts and the Wiltons.

Watko also meticulously arranged a few items on the authentic-looking antique table, including a small attractive English box she had contributed from her own collection.

Cast members include such perennial favorites as Richard McGraw, Carol Cohen, Darice Clewell and Beth Terranova, along with Heather Quinn, Zarah Roberts, Nick Beschen and Richard Koster.

The play opens Friday with performances continuing Thursdays through Sundays through Feb. 9.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for seniors and students. They may be ordered online at www.cplayers.com or at the box office at 410-268-7373.

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