Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

'Enchanted April' takes you to a magical place

Review by Lucy Komisar

Enchanted April
Written by Matthew Barber, from the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim

Directed by Michael Wilson

Belasco Theatre
111 W. 44 St.
New York
Through August 31


Loosen up and love is the message of this charming, funny confection about how some London women circa 1922 brighten their lives through the magic wrought by their jaunt to a coastal Italian villa.

The play, based on the novel that was also a film, is expertly transported to the stage by Michael Wilson, who gives one a vibrant sense of mood and place, opening from the dark London homes and club to the bright, airy villa terrace. The evocative set designs are by Tony Straiges.

Lotty Wilton, flawlessly portrayed by Jayne Atkinson as an intelligent lady not quite beaten down by the burden of a stultifying solicitor husband, has a spurt of gumption and answering an ad, decides to take a month away from the demanding oaf. Mellersh (a pompous Michael Cumpsty) is one of those husbands the feminist movement was launched to combat.

Molly Ringwald and Jayne Atkinson in Enchanted April
Molly Ringwald and Jayne Atkinson in 'Enchanted April'
Lotty finds Rose Arnott (Molly Ringwald) at a ladies' club and persuades her to join the adventure. Uptight Rose can't relate to her lively spouse (Frederick, played by Daniel Gerroll) who writes racy historical biographies about figures such as DuBarry.

The housewives are women who've done what was expected and thought they would be rewarded; instead, they are depressed. Into their midst come two very different single ladies, Lady Caroline Bramble (Dagmar Dominczyk) and Mrs. Graves (Elizabeth Ashley), found through personal ads in the newspaper.

Lady Caroline, young, sexy, rich and promiscuous and fleeing the men who pursue her, and Mrs. Graves, perhaps 70, played wonderfully by Ashley as a severe, morose Grand Dame with a suspicion of hidden bitterness, living in the past of the famous men she once knew.

It is a delicious feminist romp, with attitudes and relations with men underlying every woman's problem.

The sparks fly when the men, for one reason or another, show up at the Italian hideaway. Magically, people connect. The pretentious are taken down a peg by the earthy Constanza (a delightfully comic Patricia Conolly who delivers her lines in expressive Italian) who dislikes and deflates arrogance. A wacky, hysterically funny scene has the partly nude Mellersh/Cumpsty prancing around in a towel and hat.

In the end, everyone "blossoms." It's a picture postcard of a play that makes you want to tell friends, "Wish you were here."

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