REVIEW: Superb ensemble work boosts Theatre Macon's 'Enchanted April'
By R. Andrew Strickland
(Originally published in the Macon Telegraph, May 17, 2005.)
Who has not wanted to escape life sometimes, if just for a moment? Exotic climes beckon, unimagined adventures lie just outside one's grasp.
The characters at the heart of Matthew Barber's "Enchanted April" seek just such an escape. This lush romantic comedy, based on the 1921 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, is now brightening the stage of Theatre Macon.
The action centers on four women in post-World War I England who pool their resources to rent a castle in Italy for a monthlong escape from London and the dreariness of their personal lives. This adventure and Theatre Macon's production itself are driven by the character of Lotty Wilton. Megan Dunagan plays Lotty with an infectious enthusiasm that effectively explores both Lotty's endless optimism and her struggle with the disappointment of daily life. Dunagan's performance was excellent, her energy providing the heartbeat of this production.
But where "Enchanted April" succeeds most is in the fine ensemble work of the cast. September Carter as Rose Arnott does fine work in taking her character from the disappointed Madonna of the first act to blooming new life in the second. Mary Leonard Hurt (Mrs. Graves) and Sagen Woolery (Caroline Bramble) round out the quartet of English ladies. Hurt is hysterical, if occasionally hard to understand, as the sour Mrs. Graves, while Woolery plays frustrated flapper Caroline with a wistful desperation that is quite effective.
Steven Smith brings an honest life to Antony Wilding, the owner of the castle, while Becky Yeatman accomplishes the difficult task of performing the Italian-speaking Constanza with delicious comic clarity.
Slightly less successful are Derek Wright (Mellersh Wilton) and Fred Hardin (Frederick Arnott) as the husbands of Lotty and Rose. Both Wright and Hardin show fine acting ability, but their characters sometimes come across as caricatures in comparison with their female counterparts. Still, the deft comic timing of both actors provides some of the funniest moments of the production.
"Enchanted April" is visually stunning, with exquisite 1920s costumes by Shelley Kuhen and warm, inviting lighting by Tony Pearson. The second act set consisting of a stone veranda awash in a veritable jungle of plants is breathtaking. The London sets, consisting merely of black flats and furniture, seem a bit Spartan in comparison, but Pearson's lighting gives them a greater presence.
While "Enchanted April" is wonderfully entertaining and quite funny, this production occasionally seems unsure of what is wants to be: slapstick, romantic comedy or thoughtful drama. The cast does all three genres well, but the change in styles is often distracting. Still, director Jim Crisp deserves hearty applause for the fine staging, strong character development and pure entertainment inherent in this production.