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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Enchanting April a Perfect Fit For the Spring Season

Enchanted April
Jason Szamreta and
Patricia Durante

Enchanted April seems to be a property for all seasons. It began its life as a 1922 English novel by Elizabeth von Arnin which was exceptionally popular in England and the United States. It twice appeared on screen. First as a 1935 American film with Ann Harding, and then in the form of an award-winning 1992 British film. In 1992, a stage adaptation by Matthew Barber came to Broadway where it was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play.

The Barber stage adaptation is now on stage at Women's Theater Company Parsippany Playhouse. This deceptively seeming wisp of a play fits hand in a glove into the company's intimate theatre providing a most satisfying warmth and glow. The beauty of the language and the universality of the theme transcend any limitations of appeal that might otherwise be found in a sentimental romantic comedy of this sort.

The story, set in 1920s England, tells of two drably, unhappily married housewives, who daringly leave their sour husbands behind and rent a secluded castle in the northern Italian coastal village of Portofino for the month of April. They find two other women, distinctly different in class, age and temperament from them, and each other, to share the castle and its rent with them.

Although this play is in no way a mystery, if you want to discover for yourself the nature of the April events in the Portofino castle, I suggest that you read no further as I must specify it in order to further evaluate the play.

An almost magical alchemy of the tranquil beauty of the castle and countryside, and their new experiences and relationships radiantly transform the four women and their lives.

Lotty Wilton, a poetic, soulful dreamer, is dominated by her husband Mellersh, a pompous career-obsessed lawyer who is bumptiously unaware of the virtues of the treasure who shares his bed. Lotty initiates the rental, dragging along fellow church ladies club member and Sunday school teacher, Rose Arnott. Also unhappily married, Rose tends to the mundane, assuring Lotty that she finds satisfaction in being dutiful to church and family ("Heaven is in our home, if we make it there"). Her husband, Frederick, who has peccadilloes of his own for which to answer, makes it clear that Rose's words are not matched by her behaviors when he tells her, "if the things you have faith in ever include those who love you, let us know."

Their recruited vacation companions are "Mrs." Graves, an impervious, demanding widow from a respected literary family, and Lady Caroline Bramble, a spoiled and seemingly despoiled society celebrity. The rental also comes with an acerbic cook, Veronica, who only speaks Italian. Her sarcasm and disdain are made clear by her intonations and body language. A later arrival is castle landlord Antony Wilding, a portrait painter who has inherited the family abode.

Patricia Durante emphasizes the gentle, non-confrontational nature of the ethereally natured Lotty Wilton. Durante delivers her beautifully written and moving opening and closing monologues, which likely are derived directly from the von Arnin, novel with a graceful naturalism which makes them emotionally resonant. There is a steel in Lotty, and part of the pleasure of the sharp writing is that it conveys this while allowing Durante to consistently display her sweet-natured personality. Nancy Kutzer is particularly successful in portraying the transformation of the prim and mundane Rose Arnott. Her delicate performance suggests the blossoming of a flower.

Karen Case Cook is effectively prickly, being in equal parts annoying and laugh provoking as Mrs. Grave. Given Mrs. Graves' advanced years, her transformation is properly less striking than that of the others. Ashley Kowzun maintains the ambiguity of Lady Caroline Bramble, the most mysterious member of the vacationing quartet. Michelle Danna is delightfully funny as the down to earth, broadly gesturing Italian housekeeper Costanza. Jason Szamreta effortlessly conveys the easy charm and decency of painter Antony Wilding.

Larry Wilbur nicely captures the comic self-centered cluelessness of Mellersh Wilton as well as his later delight in a new view of his world without the comic exaggeration to which the role lends itself. Stewart Schneck is most competent as the duplicitous, yet decent Frederick Arnott.

Company artistic director Barbara Krajkowski has elicited a lovely, low-key ensemble performance which illuminates the play's strengths and helps its contrivances go down pretty easily. Krajkowski is clearly aware that, in the intimacy of this theatre, any emoting would damage the delicate fabric of the play. To the play's great advantage, she has staged the first act black box style. The setting itself blossoms for the April sojourn in Portofino.

Enchanted April is about rebirth and renewal. It is about being open to new experiences and embracing the joy of living. There are true life "magical" benefits to be gained from such attitudinal dispositions. By beautifully articulating this, Enchanted April brings a value even dearer than the satisfying entertainment that it offers.

Enchanted April continues performances (Friday and Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 3 pm) through April 23, 2011, at the Parsippany Community Center Playhouse, 1140 Knoll Road, Lake Hiawatha, NJ 07034; Box Office: 973-316-3033/ online: www.womenstheater.org.

Enchanted April by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth van Arnin; directed by Barbara Krajkowski

Cast
Lotty Wilton......................Patricia Durante
Mellersh Wilton.......................Larry Wilbur
Rose Arnott..........................Nancy Kutzer
Frederick Arnott.............Stewart Schneck
Caroline Bramble...............Ashley Kowzun
Antony Wilding.................Jason Szamreta
Mrs. Graves....................Karen Case Cook
Costanza.............................Michelle Dana


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- Bob Rendell



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