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'Enchanted April' is just that

The Baltimore Sun

Colonial Players' production of Matthew Barber's 2003 romantic comedy Enchanted April succeeds on several levels in creating enchantment.

The January-to-early-February scheduling is ideal for an escape to springtime on the Italian Riviera in the post-World War I era. For about two hours, the Annapolis company transports us to a time and place where we meet diverse characters whose disillusions might have relevance to our own.

This old-fashioned romantic comedy - based on Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel - looks at the role of women in 1922 England through two repressed housewives facing uncertainties. The women long to escape London's soggy climate and the husbands who ignore them.

Having seen an ad for an Italian castle rental property, the women decide to spend April on Italy's Mediterranean Coast.

Colonial Players director Mary Fawcett Watko has gathered a first-rate cast to tell this story with detailed authenticity. The action moves smoothly through nine scene changes in the first act and four in the second.

Watko, a native of England, has conjured up the feel of long-ago London.

She has help from a talented production crew that includes stage manager Herb Elkin and set designer Doug Dawson, who creates contrasting climates along with lighting designers Elkin, Eric Lund and Richard Koster.

London's near-constant rain and occasional thunder are evoked by sound designers Mickey Handwerger and Wes Bedsworth. Costume designers Jean Beall and Donna Soraparu create some lovely costumes.

The excellent cast is headed by Darice Clewell, who plays Lotty Wilton with the vulnerability, courage, insight and giddiness the role requires. Those who remember Clewell in Colonial's 2006 production of Splendour will recall her nearly saving that challenging venture.

Heather Quinn plays Lotty's new friend and traveling companion, the equally repressed, somewhat enigmatic Rose Arnott. Quinn captures the "disappointed Madonna" aspects of the devout Rose while revealing her desire for adventure. She also knows how to underplay comic lines, such as telling her novelist husband, Frederick, "not to write anything God wouldn't want to read."

Rose and Lotty recruit two women to share the Italian experience and expenses. One is the free-spirited young Lady Caroline, played by Zarah Roberts, who creates a sophisticated, less aloof, increasingly likable Lady Caroline.

Dowager Mrs. Graves is defined by Carol Cohen, who made me forget she is too young for this role. Pointing her walking stick with a maestro's finesse, Cohen's deadpan gaze is hilarious, as is her feuding with Costanza, whether in English or in comprehensible Italian.

With her comic sense and characteristic brio, Beth Terranova as Costanza again steals nearly every scene she graces. Terranova also is responsible for coaching the cast to speak acceptable Italian and hilarious adaptations of the language in homage to her "grande signora" Italian grandmother.

On discovering the villa's powers of enchantment, Lotty and Rose decide to invite their spouses to join them. Richard Koster as stuffy solicitor Mellersh Wilton experiences a transformation at the villa after a life-changing bath that comically removes most of his inhibitions.

Nick Beschen, as social-climbing, philandering novelist Frederick Arnott, does what he can with essentially a one-dimensional character.

As the English gentleman artist who owns the Italian castle, Richard McGraw brings his abundant charm to the role, exhibiting notable chemistry with Cohen's Mrs. Graves to warm her heart and create onstage joy.

My disappointment with Colonial's production of Enchanted April is that I had expected more spectacular contrasts between the London of Act 1 and the San Salvatore terrace of Act 2.

The attempt to expand the scene to the limits of the theater by adding wisteria to one side and a large Mediterranean landscape to the other side wall left the stage patio essentially bare. This might be improved by adding urns of flowers and wisteria-covered trellises to fill the sunny terrace.

My daughter, Joy, would have preferred more English cues in scenes where Italian was spoken, especially during the breakfast scene where a long discussion about milk was carried on among Mrs. Graves, Costanza and Lady Caroline.

As one who hasn't managed to get enough of Italy in 15 visits, I found the spoken Italian added to the Mediterranean aura. I also was highly amused by Koster's comic destruction of the language as in "Io voGlio un baGno" and in his other futile attempts to communicate with Costanza.

Despite the reservations, the show can almost be guaranteed to lift spirits on January and early February weekends.

"Enchanted April" continues Thursdays through Sundays through Feb. 9. Tickets can be ordered online at www.cplayers.com or at the box office, 410-268-7373.

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