|Carley Cornelius as Lotty.|
Playwright: Matthew Barber, from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim
Company: Fine Arts Center
Venue: SaGaJiTheater, Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, 30 West Dale Street, Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes (includes 15 minute intermission).
Date of Performance: Saturday, February 11, 2017.
Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel The Enchanted April has been adapted for the big screen twice, first in 1935 and again in 1992, when it garnered 3 Oscar nominations and won 2 Golden Globes awards. The Matthew Barber stage adaptation premiered in 2003, and a musical adaptation opened in 2010. It’s nearly a century since von Armin created her female focused Italian holiday tale, and the story is arguably more fun and more relevant now than it was on the day it was first published.
von Armin’s story starts in the dreary London rain when Lotty (Carley Cornelius) discovers an “advert” (British for advertisement) offering an Italian castle for rent for the month of April. It’s for those who love “wisteria and sunshine.” Lotty’s a dreamer, but she’s trapped in a bleak marriage to her pompous, self centered husband Mellersh (Kevin Lowry). Lotty recruits three other dispirited, disillusioned women to split the costs (60 pounds sterling) for q month in paradise. It’s a “girls only” getaway, at least until the guys show up in Italy.
Enchanted April is a romantic comedy with a timely feminist slant; the ladies need to get away from the guys to reconnect as “sisters”. It’s an empowering story. By escaping from the guys, the ladies shake them up and are ultimately better able to reconnect with their spouses. Lotty puts it well early in the first act: time doesn’t go backwards. It only moves forward. Each day is like the last, and like the next, unless we do something to “move forward.” A month in an Italian castle is her move forward.
On entering the theater, I was struck by Christopher L. Sheley’s sumptuous set. For act one, it’s simple; six window frames suspended over the stage. Those six window frames serve as multiple locations, in each case giving us a constant reminder of the incessant London rain. Sheley’s window frames are a playground for lighting designer Holly Anne Rawls, who bathes the windows in different shades and different degrees of brilliance, depending on the time of day and the location. Rawls has mastered the lighting that animates the endless rain that falls for the entire first act.
While Sheley’s set for the first act set engaging, it is the Italian castle set in the second act that provides spectacular eye candy. The transformation from London to Italy is stunning, and Sheley’s set reinforces the emotional transformation of Barber’s characters as it shifts from dull London to idyllic Italy.
|MacKenzie Beyer (Caroline), Carley Cornelius|
Carley Cornelius is from the Chicago area, but she’s a semi-regular on the Theatreworks stage at UCCS (see here, here, here, here, and here). There’s some very good reasons why she keeps showing up 1,000 miles from her natural habitat. She’s a consummate professional, a gifted actor, and as versatile as anyone I’ve ever seen. I think this is her first Fine Arts Center appearance, and I hope the FAC will be asking her back often. She’s the spark plug in the Enchanted April engine, punctuating Barber’s lines with her gestures, facial expressions, and natural charm.
Heather Lacy (as Rose) is Lotty’s reluctant partner in crime. Lacy’s character shares one essential trait with Lotty: she’s in a dead end marriage. Even so, she knows her place, and Lacy plays the submissive Rose to Lotty’s rebellious dreamer.
Karl Brevik as Wilding, the castle’s owner, has a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step, charming the ladies at every turn. MacKenzie Beyer plays the beautiful, aloof Lady Caroline, mixing it up with Mrs. Graves over fashion choices and cognac. Billie McBride (Mrs. Graves) is always a pleasure to watch on any stage, and her prickly, proper Mrs. Graves is no exception.
|Kevin Lowry (Mellersh), Carley Cornelius (Lotty).|
Kevin Lowry (Mellersh) and Logan Ernstthal (Frederick) are convincing as a pair of proper British male aristocrats of the early 20th century. They exude privilege while demonstrating why they should have none. As spouses, they would be a decidedly poor catch for any woman in 2017. That said, however, the do provide a good deal of the humor for Enchanted April, and in the process, they inspire the ladies to bust out of their dreary routines. Both are very capable actors who must have reached very deep to play the cads of Enchanted April. I’m quite sure neither is a cad off stage. Lowry gets special mention here, though, for being the “butt” of the funniest joke of the production.
|Jane Fromme (Costanza).|
Jane Fromme (as Costanza) has the smallest role in Enchanted April as the servant who speaks only Italian. For Fromme, language is no barrier. She speaks impeccable Italian (at least is sounds impecable to me, but I speak no Italian), but she communicates marvelously with her facial expressions and gestures. Fromme has a delicate sense of comedic timing, and she uses it every time she hits the stage.
Director Joye Cook-Levy clearly delights in this tale of empowerment. My favorite scene in the production is the one where Lotty and Rose tell their husbands about their plan to go to Italy. Cook-Levy tells the two stories simultaneously as Lotty and Rose confront their husbands. It’s a highly relevant scene done with a poignant touch, and it’s a scene reminiscent of recent events (“She was warned. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”)
Lotty and Rose persisted too. They went to “paradiso.”
|Carley Cornelius (Lotty) & Heather Lacy (Rose).|
That said, you don’t have to see Enchanted April for the political or feminist value. It’s a funny, charming, romantic story that has endured for nearly a century. The Fine Arts Center production is a LOT of fun, and that’s reason enough to get a ticket.
This show closes on February 26, 2017.
This show contains adult situations and brief nudity. Recommended for adults and mature teens.
I have been critical of some of the FAC productions in the past for not using audio mikes on the actors. Enchanted April is fully miked, and the sound is excellent. For this, I thank whoever (Sound Designer Ben Heston? Director Joye Cook-Levy?) for the audio support for those of us with less than optimal hearing.
The rain effect in the first act is mesmerizing. Rain is transparent, but somehow FAC has made it visible and real. I do not know how they did this. Wow.
On a personal note, Enchanted April confirms something I’ve discovered over the years. Vacations and holidays are indeed an effective way to renew and refresh one’s outlook, but it’s not just about the vacation itself. The planning, preparation, and anticipation is as powerful as the “wisteria and sunshine.”
Director: Joye Levy
Set Designer: Christopher L. Sheley
Costume Design: Janson Fangio
Original Music Composed by: Ryan Bañagale
Lighting Design: Holly Anne Rawls
Sound Design: Ben Heston
Dialect Coach: Amy Brooks
Makeup & Hair Design: Jonathan Eberhardt
Stage Manager: Katelyn Springer
Rose: Heather Lacy
Lotty: Carley Cornelius
Lady Caroline: Mackenzie Beyer
Mrs. Graves: Billie McBride
Mellerish: Kevin Lowry
Frederick: Logan Ernstthal
Wilding: Karl Brevik
Costanza: Jane Fromme