A magic time of year

SLO Little Theatre’s "Enchanted April" is a lighthearted romantic comedy set in 1920s England

Special to The TribuneApril 24, 2013 

"Enchanted April” is a charming, old-fashioned romantic comedy, a refreshing timeout from the grim news of recent weeks.

However, the story, from an avant-garde feminist novel of its time, is set in England in 1922, a rather sad era when the country was recovering from the loss of so many in World War I. The San Luis Obispo Little Theatre production, directed by Teresa Thuman, is instilled with just the right mix of comedy and pathos to give it a “happy ever after” feeling.

In rainy Hampton, two women, feeling unappreciated in their marriages, answer an ad for a vacation in a castle in Italy, recruit two other strangers seeking escape, and in a few weeks of sunshine and flowers are “translated” from dowdy housewives to cheerful romantics.

The play was written by Matthew Barber and has a long history of stage and film versions. This one is well cast and the acting good all around. Wendy-Marie Martin plays Lotty Wilton, the instigator of the plot.

She does a bit of narration at the beginning, expressing a moral of sorts about “changing what we have to what we wish for.” Lotty is a talker and a doer, described by her husband as having a mind like a hummingbird — “you rarely see it land.”

Unlike Lotty, Rose Arnott, played by Alicia Klein, is pious and earnest, resisting the Italy idea. But Lotty won’t take no for an answer, and they place an ad for two women to share the adventure and expenses.

The two who answer the invitation are unlikely companions. Lady Caroline Bramble is a glamorous socialite, a member of the modern “gin and jazz” crowd, eager to get away from it all for a bit. Angela Hutt-Chamberlin plays her with a weary sadness.

The fourth woman to join the trip is Mrs. Graves, a crotchety, opinionated and bossy old woman, played to the hilt by Rosh Wright. She has some of the best lines and she delivers them with authority, getting most of the laughs. All of the women do well with British accents, but Wright doesn’t have to try. She’s British.

David Norum and Bob Peterson play the men Lotty and Rose are escaping from. Norum is excellent as Mellersh Wilton, a stiff-upper-lip English solicitor and master of the house. Late in the play, he has one of the funniest (and most surprising) scenes. Peterson plays Frederick Arnott, an author of racy novels (under another name) that his wife disapproves of, saying, “You should not write books that God won’t read.”

These characters are all introduced in the first act, performed on a minimalist set. After intermission, the stage has been transformed into the lovely terrace at the castle, festooned with flowers — the wisteria that captured Lotty’s imagination in the original ad.

In the second act we meet the maid, Costanza, and the owner of the castle, Antony Wilding. Jean Miller is a kick as she rattles off Italian dialogue and is bewildered by the increasingly confusing demands and antics of the guests. Cory Schonauer is good as the landlord, an artist who paints portraits with “two eyes and one mouth” in the era of Picasso.

Everyone mellows at the castle, and their secrets come out. Lotty and Rose, in their drab, dark clothes, had been assumed to be widows, but as they float about in pretty dresses and mention husbands, Mrs. Graves, who has also mellowed, asks, “Is anyone here who they claim to be?”

The dialogue is clever and often funny, and the mood in the second act is almost farcical. Serious secrets come out, giving it all a bit of depth, but not too much to spoil its feel good ending.

This is an enjoyable, lighthearted play, and the actors run with the characters. A sold-out audience on a Sunday afternoon left the theater smiling.

IF YOU GO

"Enchanted April"
7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 5
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
$15 to $25
786-2440 or www.slolittletheatre.org.

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