Wednesday, July 31, 2013

ENCHANTED APRIL: The show must go on at Shaw

At the start of the second act of a mid-July showing of The Shaw Festival’s ENCHANTED APRIL, a loud burst of thunder from a raging summer storm shook the theatre, and zapped out the lights.  The set was in the midst of being changed and froze, halfway between the first act England set and second act Italy. With the electricity out, the standby generator popped on.  Unfortunately, the outage destroyed the lighting and other electric production presets and the show was forced to stop! 

On stage, one of the actresses held her position as the lights went on, then off again.  The show resumed for a few seconds, and then, once again, there was blackness. After several apologetic announcements by the stage manager, and a forced intermission, much to the delight of the audience, the old adage, “The show must go on,” was achieved!

As to the play, itself, the question presented is, what happens when four women, all of whom are caught in psychologically repressive environments, leave damp, rainy London and go on holiday in sunny Italy?  If they are characters in Elizabeth von Arnim’s charming novel and Matthew Barber’s well-written theatrical adaption of ENCHANTED APRIL, they find a new appreciation for life.

The story centers on Mrs. Arnett and Mrs. Wilton, who meet at their ladies club in London.  They are both looking for an escape from oppressive marriages, and realize that they are reading the same advertisement offering an  month-long April rental for a small medieval castle in Italy.   They hatch a plan to find two other women to share the expenses of subletting the property.  The duo reluctantly sign on with the beautiful, but aloof Lady Caroline, who has secret issues of her own, and Mrs. Graves, an elderly up-tight matron whose rigidity is a just cause for concern. 

Drop this quartet into an idyllic sun-soaked setting filled with flowers, sea, an irreverently enthusiastic housekeeper, and the charming owner of the castle, and there are possibilities for laughs, a bit of farcical slapstick, and a happy ending.

Shaw’s production is lovingly directed by Jackie Maxwell.  Each character is perfectly etched.  The settings and costumes are era and attitude correct,  while the lighting, which creates the perfect balance of British overcast and Italian bliss, adds clear emotional reactions.

Though it is sometimes a little difficult to understand some words due to her accent, inconsistent projection, and speed of speech, Moya O’Connell, makes for a charming hyper Lotty Wilton, who develops a women whose life in England is thwarted by her controlling husband.  This is a person who needs to escape or she will perish as a caged bird.

Rose Arnott, is a woman living in the shadow of the death of her son and a husband who has basically checked out of their marriage and into the life of a famous book writer with a mistress.  Tara Rosling is spot on in her creation of the conflicted woman, who finally confronts her demons, with the  encouragement of Anthony, the young artist and owner of the castle.

Donna Belleville is vocal and movement perfect as the controlling Mrs.
Graves.  Her sparring with Costanza, the housekeeper, and pointed attempts to control the other three guests is nicely done.  Her transformation from humorless uptight woman to a charmer is beautifully developed.

Marla McLean crreates a clear characterization as the beautiful, reclusive Lady Carolyn, who has a surprising secret to escape and deep needs to fulfill.

Kevin McGarry, with his matinee idol good looks and fine acting skills, convinces as the charming artist and owner of the Italian castle.

Sharry Flett almost steals the show as the Italian speaking, free-will housekeeper.  Her comic timing is perfect and her expressive face a canvas of multiple-moods.

Jeff Meadows (Mellersh Wilton) and Patrick Galligan (Frederick Arnott) develop the controlling and emotionally distant husbands with clarity.  The scene in which Meadows drops his towel and exposes his body, and moons the audience, was a show-stopper.  (Yes, male nudity at The Shaw!)

Capsule judgement:  Shaw’s ENCHANTED APRIL is a well-performed, well directed, well written charming comedy that should delight those interested in an escape from the real world into a voyage of discovery of what is really important in life.

ENCHANTED APRIL runs until October 26, 2013 at the Festival Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.