Presented by Stage Centre Productions
Welcome back, community theatre.
Thank you to Stage Centre Productions for the invitation.
I knew nothing about Enchanted April and no knowledge it was a novel by Elizabeth von Armin before it became a play by Matthew Barber. Director Scott Griffin in his programme notes describes the play both as ‘feel good’ and ‘enlightenment through travel’ of the four female protagonists. Here’s where I’m intrigued even before the story begins.
The original 1922 novel was published by a woman. The play written by a male opened in New York 2003 directed by Michael Wilson. Stage Centre’s production is directed by a male and this review incorporates a male perspective.
Hmmm…in our woke culture today we’re told it’s important to ensure equitable representation so shouldn’t there be perhaps a tad more awareness of female voices at the helm in staging a story of their empowerment?
I’m going to risk here in saying I’m pleased Stage Centre took a chance to have Griffin direct this solid production. Yes, we men can appreciate, discuss, and value a good story when it’s directed with an untiring vision and indefatigable dedication. Griffin was supposed to have directed this play in 2020 so thank you for staying the course and not veering away.
Enchanted April is a lovely story of four strong women who ultimately turn to each other to learn about their value in a world still oppressive and reeling from the effects of World War One. Lotty Wilton (Elaine O’Neal) is a sweetly demure lady suffering depression from the London, England winters and her relationship with her sometimes arrogantly pompous solicitor husband, Mellersh (Will van der Zyl). Lotty reads of an advertisement in the paper to rent a castle in Italy for the month of April where she will be able to enjoy and admire the wisteria and sunshine and hopefully be cured of her sadness.
Lotty meets and just senses she has a mutual kinship with Rose Arnott (Catherine Lenihan) who carries her own personal demons. Lotty persuades Rose to join her on this venture. To cut down on the expenses of the trip, both Lotty and Rose realize they should try to find other travelling companions and they do so in selecting tired socialite Lady Caroline (Lindsay Woodford) and sometimes cantankerous and exhausting widow Mrs. Graves (Robin Philips)
Throughout the month of April in San Salvatore the idyllic and sumptuous beauty of the surroundings becomes a balm to help these ladies regain their sense of selves after they have initially clashed upon arrival at the villa. Will the arrival of husbands Melleresh, Frederick Arnott (Michael Chodos), owner Mr. Wilding (Joseph van Veen) and the occasional appearances of smart-ass servant, Costanza (Patti Byrne at this performance) destroy what these ladies have so desperately needed in their lives? The selective timing of comedy, mystery, and misunderstanding weave deliciously together as the plot unravels.
Visually the production becomes a colourfully attractive panorama view from Pierre Rajotte’s eye catching set design to Victoria Richardson and her team’s gorgeous costume designs. Rajotte’s cleverly juxtaposed set design in Acts One and Two was a nice surprise for me. The Act One claustrophobic set in front of the curtain is a reminder we are in the restrictive confines of the city of London. Centre stage subtly mirrored the sameness in the dining room settings of the Wilton and Arnott homes. Stage right is Mrs. Graves’ imposing chair on which she plants herself when she holds court. Stage left is a comfortable looking fashionable chair which becomes a sitting room in the home of Lady Caroline. Scott Griffin’s selection of post World War 1 preshow music magically drew me back to another time. The sprawling suggestive look of the San Salvatore castle in Act 2 with its multihued colours of the setting and flowers made me want “to take a holiday to Italy at the end of the show’ as Griffin points out in his Director’s Note.
Just this surveying alone indicated to me the tremendous amount of work gone into mounting this behemoth of a show, and for this I applaud this dedicated talented crew of the production team.
I loved the tableaux established at the top of Act One because it becomes a fine picture where we are introduced to seeing members of the acting company. However, it took me several minutes to get into April’s story on account of some pesky technical glitches which I hope will be fixed for remaining performances.
An initial sound balancing quibble at the top of both Acts One and Two frustrated me. When Elaine O’Neal stepped forward and breaks the fourth wall to deliver important information to the audience about what they were going to see, I did not hear a word she said as it was all lost because the sound design was out of balance. There were patrons in the row in front of me who turned to each other and said they did not hear any of that opening as well. The same thing occurred in Act Two when Ms. O’Neal once again steps forward. In addition, I was sitting in the last row and there was some noise behind my guest and me. We both commented on that at the intermission. I am hoping these glitches will be rectified for future performances.
I believe actors love the challenge of using accents in their performances. The challenge nevertheless comes in sustaining a natural and convincing believability to the ear. For the most part, yes, it worked but there were moments in Act Two near the end where accents faltered periodically. Hopefully for remaining performances the cast will be consciously aware of this.
The ensemble work of the four ladies remained established and sturdy. Elaine O’Neal, Catherine Lenihan, Lindsay Woodford, and Robin Philips deliver satisfying performances of four uniquely distinct women who want to find their place, their significance and their dignity in a world dominated by men. Wonderful comic moments ensued between the firm grounding of Robin Philips’ staunchly matriarchal Mrs. Graves and the comic timing of Patti Byrne as the hot headed smug Italian servant, Costanza.
Decent supporting work from Messrs. van der Zyl, Chodos, and van Veen appropriately underscore the character arcs of the ladies. Van der Zyl’s patronizing Mellersh in Act Two certainly gets his just reward in an off handed back ended opening. (You’ll understand that reference when you see what he does). Michael Chodos’s secret surprise in the second act as Frederick Arnott caught me off guard much to my delight. Mr. van Veen is a dashing Mr. Wilding who certainly understands that charming will make him go a long way.
Final Comments: This Enchanted April is a warmly appreciative gift of community theatre to a loyal audience after a two-year longing absence. Its story of female empowerment, belonging, longing and acceptance remains one of importance.
Running Time: approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
ENCHANTED APRIL by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth von Armin
Presented at Stage Centre Productions
Production runs to April 2 at the Fairview Library Theatre, 35 Fairview Mall Drive. For tickets, call the Box Office at (416) 299-5557 or visit www.stagecentreproductions.com for further information.
Covid Protocols in effect at the theatre. My guest and I felt quite safe in attending.