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March 24, 2010 > Theatre Preview: Spring is in the Air

Theatre Preview: Spring is in the Air

By Vidya Pradhan

It seems unusual that a story first published in the years after World War I should be adapted into a play eight decades later. But the magic of Enchanted April is that its themes of lovelessness, loss, and new beginnings seem as relevant today as they must have all those years ago.

In 1922 the war had just ended. Women were coping with the loss of father, husbands, and brothers. As rigid social structures crumbled, there was exploration of identity, and questions of choice. It was in this milieu that Elizabeth Von Arnim penned the novel Enchanted April.

Enchanted April is the story of four dissimilar women, beguiled by the promise of "wisteria and sunshine" into escaping the dreary confines of their lives in cold, wet, England, and escape to a sunny beachside villa in Italy for a month in spring. Lotty Wilton, a solicitor's wife, is the instigator of this escape. Lacking something in her life, but not quite sure of what that might be, Lotty is convinced that answers will be found in sunny Italy. She convinces shy Rose Arnott, socialite Lady Caroline Bramble, and stiff Mrs. Graves to join her so they may share expenses. At the wisteria-laden villa, under the spell of sunshine and sea, the four women discover unexpected traits and strengths in themselves and end up taking important decisions with their lives. For all its serious underpinnings, this is a warm and funny story, uplifting for the characters as well as the readers.

Broadway West in Fremont features playwright Mathew Barber's adaptation of Enchanted April from March 19th through April 17th. The play was nominated for a Best Play Tony Award in 2003 and won the John Gassner Award for outstanding New American Play for that year.

It's easy to see why. Enchanted April manages to deliver its theme of female bonding with wit and humor. Dawn Cates as Lotty Wilson has the best lines; she does a competent job, though the effort in adopting a British accent sometimes seems strained. Angie Higgins as Lady Caroline and Mary Galde as Mrs. Graves perform admirably as well, but the revelation is Roselyn Hallett as the prim and proper Rose Arnott, who needs to be gently coaxed out of her shell by the ebullient Lotty. The moment when Italy works its magic on the buttoned-up Rose, and the lines on her face slowly relax into a measure of peace and joy is particularly worth waiting for.

The play sometimes descends into a friendship farce, with one scene (which I shall not spoil for future viewers) where the audience collapses in laughter at the antics on stage. As the ladies thaw out from the English chill, the play gets funnier and funnier, till you miss a few bon mots because of the gales of laughter around you.

If spring in Italy in a flower-laden seaside villa sounds enchanting, Enchanted April is the next best thing to being there. All'Italia!

Enchanted April
By Matthew Barber
From the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim
Directed by Troy Johnson

Enchanted April
March 19 - April 17, 2010
Broadway West
4000 Bay Street, Fremont
510) 683-9218

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