*** (out of five)
Reviewed by James Karas
Enchanted April is a pleasant comedy about post-World War I women asserting their freedom and suffering some of the effects of the war. Director Jackie Maxwell gets out most of the laughs, even a couple of guffaws when the play veers shortly into farce.
Enchanted April is an adaptation by Matthew Barber of a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. We have four women who manage to escape from England to the sun and flowers of Italy by renting a small castle there in 1922. Lotte (Moya O’Connell) is the dreamy wife of Mellersh (Jeff Meadows), a solicitor. She convinces the strict and religious Rose (Tara Rosling) to go to Italy with her.
They find two more women to share the castle. Lady Caroline (Marla McLean) is beautiful, popular and an indirect victim of the war. Mrs. Graves (Donna Belleville) is a cantankerous old woman who, when asked for references, directs you to the President of the Royal Academy, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Governor of the Bank of England.
The four women go to the gorgeous seaside castle where they find an eccentric cook in Costanza (Sharry Flett) and Antony (Kevin McGarry), the owner of the castle.
The pleasant humour and laughter come easily. Lotte is excitable, innocent, likable and naïve. She points to a picture and asks Mrs. Graves if that is her mother to be told curtly and grandly that it is Queen Victoria. O’Connell’s excitement is infectious and enjoyable.
Rosling’s character is complementary and contrasting. Rose is more sophisticated and prettier, and her husband is hiding a big secret known as a mistress.
Lady Caroline also hides a secret behind her snobbish and standoffish attitude. McLean does a fine job in the role.
Some of the best lines of the play are reserved for Mrs. Graves who is old and used to her English ways. But we do see her humane side near the end.
Sharry Flett speaks only Italian but she gets quite a few laughs at the expense of Mrs. Graves. Unfortunately Flett can’t quite manage a decent Italian accent. By that I mean I wish she would not sound like a Canadian tourist trying to speak Italian.
McGarry as Antony is a hunk of a man with very good manners but a very bad accent. Jeff Meadows as Mellersh brings the house down by dropping the towel that is hiding his modesty when he runs out of the bath.
Enchanted April has two sets designed by William Schmuck: a dreary room with some tables and chairs in the first act. This is rainy, boring England. Then we get sunlit and flower-strewn Italy where all is just gorgeous and conjugal love blossoms and re-blossoms while illicit liaisons wither.
Men killed in the war is a constant theme of the play and when one saw a woman alone in those days, the first thought was that she must be a widow. But the guns of August are very far away from us and all we saw was a very pleasant comedy. Is this the sort of thing the Shaw Festival should be doing? Only if it fills the theatre, I suppose._____
Enchanted April by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim continues in repertory until October 26, 2013 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.