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San Francisco by Richard Connema

San Jose Repertory Theatre Presents a Lovely Production of Enchanted April

Also see Richard's reviews of Hilda and Well

Enchanted April
Emily Swallow
The San Jose Repertory Company is presenting the Northern California premiere of Matthew Barber's Tony-nominated adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1921 best selling novel Enchanted April, running through February 27. This is a heartwarming comedy about friendship, love and the rediscovery of life's enchantments. It is also a comfortingly sentimental comedy that one sees rarely these days.

Author Elizabeth von Arnim's book is still read today by romantics. Both stage and screen have seen productions from the best seller, starting with a silent film version in 1925. Broadway saw a version that was adapted by Kane Campbell at the Morosco Theatre on August 24, 1925 where it ran only 32 performances. RKO Radio films did a screen version in 1935 and Mike Newell directed a beautiful film of the romantic comedy with some of England's top actresses - Jose Lawrence, Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright and Polly Walker - in 1992. Broadway saw Mathew Barber's adaptation on April 8, 2003 where it was nominated for Tonys for Best Play and Best Actress (Jayne Atkinson). It ran 143 performances. Pasadena Playhouse did a production last year to good reviews.

Enchanted April opens in cold and rainy 1922 London as Lotty Wilson (Domenique Lozano) and Rose Arnott (Julie Eccles) are introduced as the main characters. Both have husbands that overpower them, and their loveless marriages make them subjugated housewives. The English weather with cold rain beating against the doors of a ladies club does not help matters either. In the London Times, Lotty spots an ad for a Tuscan villa for rent for the whole month of April. It should be the perfect place to rejuvenate the women, with wisteria growing everywhere and a view of the sea. To help pay expenses, they find two additional women to join them: Mrs. Graves (Carol Mayo Jenkins), a strong-willed autocratic woman who is very opinionated as to what she wants and does not want; and an upper-class flapper, Lady Caroline (Emily Swallow), who likes to dance on tables but wants to get away from the high life of gin and jazz.

Enchanted April's first act is a series of brief, irregular scenes against a backdrop of a stationary inside door of the woman's club, with rain battering against the upper windows and a revolving turntable which contains few pieces of furniture, in direct contrast to the opulent second act set of the Italian villa. These scenes also show the husbands of Lotty and Rose and the life they lead with their egocentric husbands. Lotty's husband Mellersh (Jeff Woodman) is a supercilious and stuffy solicitor who firmly believes a woman's place is in the home. Rose's husband Frederick (Dan Haitt) is a breezy, sarcastic and sad husband who writes historical novels under a pen name. This first act is a little too long, but it does set up the splendor of the amazing Italian villa set of the second act. What is claustrophobic in the first act suddenly opens up to one of the most enchanted and beautiful sets that you are likely to see this year.

Enchanted April's actresses become lovely and glamorous women. Each is surrounded by the invigorating effect of the sunny climate of Tuscany. Even Lotty and Rose think about reconciliation with their respective spouses and invite them to come to sunny Italy during the month. As Shakespeare says, "all's well that ends well."

Director John McCluggage has assembled a great cast of Bay Area favorites, all giving captivating performances with excellent English accents. Domenique Lozano as Lotty and Julie Eccles as Rose are outstanding. Lozano's optimistic feistiness and Eccles with her pedantic restraint make perfect counterpoints to each other. Carol Mayo Jenkins as the haughty Mrs. Grace, who talks about all of the great poets who are dead, is perfect in the role. She plays Mrs. Grace as Lady Bracknell. Emily Swallow is just right as as Lady Caroline, the bored, world-weary flapper of the '20s - a character who could be in a Noel Coward play.

The supporting players in the romantic comedy come across with consummate performances. Dan Haitt gives an urbane performance as Frederick that is very "Noel Cowardish." Jeff Woodman as the stuffy solicitor becomes a first-rate comedian in the second act, especially during the "nude scene" which is priceless. When these two arrive at the villa, the comedy veers toward farce. Adrian LaTourelle as the landlord is appealing and Lynne Soffer as the Italian maid nearly steals the show speaking only Italian.

There is also another star of this production and that is the lavish set by Scott Weldin that is spilling over with wisteria and other floral and fauna. The "Italian castle" itself is a masterfully detailed piece on stage left. The beautiful Tuscan villa veranda is bathed in a burnt gold wash of Lap-Chi-Chu lighting. Shigeru Yaji's costumes reflect a fashion show of glamorous '20s clothes, from evening wear to bathing gear.

Enchanted April runs through February 27th at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. For tickets call 408-367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com.

The next production is a new rock musical, Making Tracks, opening March 19 and running through April 17.


Photo: Tom Chargin


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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