Silver Spring Stage Enchanted AprilBy Bob Ashby • Apr 16th, 2012 • Category: Reviews
Silver Spring Stage
Woodmoor Shopping Center, Silver Spring, MD
Through April 28th
2:15 with one intermission
$20/$18 Seniors and Juniors
Reviewed April 14th, 2012
Matthew Barber’s romantic comedy Enchanted April is a slight, delicate thing, requiring subtle, nuanced characterization to carry its fanciful tale of the revitalization of the spirits and relationships of a quartet of disappointed British ladies on a 1922 vacation trip to an Italian villa. For lack of consistently strong acting, Silver Spring Stage’s production never weaves the enchantment the script contemplates.
One performance is a delight, however. Patricia Kratzer is note-perfect as Mrs. Graves, an imperious elderly widow who warms to friendship and learns to live for the present and future rather than in the past. Her transition is nicely paralleled by the colors of her costumes, starting with gloomy black and ending in radiant red. The richly realized details of her performance illuminate the reasons for Mrs. Graves’ behavior as well as making clear and understandable her gradual and seamless changes as she grows.
Little else in the production reaches this level. Annette Kalicki’s portrayal of Rose Arnott, whose depression over a miscarriage has caused her to cut herself off emotionally and sexually from her husband, is unconvincingly broad. As written, Rose is a character whose objectives and tactics are continually at odds. She wants to be close to her husband again, but her choices push him away. When we cannot see the longing beneath the distancing, her “how Rose got her groove back” transition in the second act seems very abrupt. If a couple weeks’ relaxation in a warm climate can lead an alienated, angry, and religiously rigid woman to pounce on her husband in “let’s get a room” fashion immediately upon his arrival, marital therapists everywhere could start collecting their unemployment checks.
Jonathan Dyer is more believable as Rose’s husband, Frederick, a charming novelist whose reaction to his wife’s rejection is, under his pen name, to pursue Lady Caroline Bramble (Sonia Motlagh), who coincidentally turns up as another guest at the villa. Dyer’s Frederick is an almost-cad who makes a rapid switch of affections in response to his wife’s renewed attention. Only in a British story would prospective lovers like Frederick and Caroline react in such an instant, understated, and very proper way to the termination of an affair before it had begun.
The primary disappointment in the production is its central character, Lotty Wilton, who Natalie McManus overplays as a frumpy, fast-talking, arm-waving ditz. Lotty’s transition to a happier person in the second act leaves her no less given to enthusiastic excess and no less annoying than she was at the outset. Lotty and her husband, Mellersh (Eric Henry), are evidently meant for each other: in his stiffness, stuffiness, and need for control, he is every bit as irritating as she is. Henry often appears physically uncomfortable in the role. During Mellersh’s crucial near-bath experience in the second act, Henry’s lack of sang-froid and choice to hold onto his towel dampen the most striking comic moment in the show.
The British accents in the show range from perfect (Kratzer, who is in fact British) through inconsistent (McManus and Kalicki) to nonexistent (Bob Scott, an agreeably gracious host as villa owner Anthony Wilding). There are numerous lines in Italian in the script, including all those for the villa’s stock comic character cook, Costanza (Shelly Rochester). She handles the Italian competently, as do Motlagh and Scott as Brits whose characters have varying degrees of fluency.
The absence of enchantment carries over into the physical production. The first act sound design features what may be a record number of thunderstorms for London in February. Aside from some brief piano interludes, there is little sound in the second act. The most notable aspect of the Act 1 set, appropriately dingy for the mood of the act, is what appear to be large carpets or blankets draped over flats which frame furniture groupings standing in for Rose’s and Lotty’s houses and their ladies’ club. The flats are removed for Act 2 to reveal a somewhat down-at-the-heels villa, with a planting area much of which is screened from the larger bank of seats on house right. There is a mysterious blue-framed black rectangle on the villa wall, the identity or purpose of which is never made clear.
To differentiate between the cold, rainy, and emotionally bleak London of the first act and the warm, sunny, and happy Italy of the second act, the lighting design changes from blues, white and shadows to yellows. In addition to Mrs. Graves’ well-conceived costume changes, Lady Caroline’s colorful lounge wear and short hair nicely accent her more contemporary character. Frederick’s natty second-act sport coat and boater say that he, too, has welcomed the 1920s.
Having unhappy, post-World War I English men and women find renewal in 1922 Italy creates an unmentioned, and unintended, historical irony. The early 1920s were not a happy time in Italy, and 1922 was the year that Mussolini first took power. For the next English generation — including, perhaps, the child that Lotty mentions that Rose and Frederick will have the next year — landing in Italy would have a quite different meaning.
Welcome to Silver Spring Stage’s production of Enchanted April.
It was 1922, post World War 1 England, when British-born Elizabeth von Arnim decided to go to Portofino, Italy. She wanted to write a happy novel and rejuvenate her life after a failed second marriage. She stayed at Castle Browne, found high atop a hill, built in the 15th century. It was there, surrounded by the sun, sea breezes, acacia trees and wisteria, she wrote the classic novel, The Enchanted April. It was not until much later that this novel was adapted for stage and screen.
Enchanted April can best be understood within the framework of World War I. The war to end all wars was brutal for England. Millions of soldiers were killed and wounded in Europe. Added to this was the sharp decline of the British Empire. Countries, conquered by Britain, began to agitate for independence. The British economy began to decline. The world’s financial center moved from London to the United States of America. Fear of inflation and an economic depression was on the rise.
The women of England were caught between traditional, Victorian values (created by the upper classes), and the realities of their everyday life. And the reality was that women were becoming restless and desired change. Women had had a taste of independence during the wartime — they became heads of households, they fought for the right to vote, they helped with the war effort, and many found employment outside of the home. Sadly, there was hardly a family that had not been tragically touched by the war. The sense of loss permeated the environment and hung morosely in every home. Women lost husbands, sons, fathers, and parts of themselves.
By the end of World War I, the invigorating sense of freedom they had once experienced was gone, Women were expected to return to their lives, and the duties they held before the war began. There was, of course, one problem — they had tasted independence and did not want to go back: they simply could not go back. The play, Enchanted April, beautifully encapsulates the yearning of four British women, of differing age and rank, who journey to Italy to recapture a world of optimism, hope, love, and self.
Photos by Harvey Levine
- Lotty Wilton: Natalie McManus
- Rose Arnott: Annette Kalicki
- Mellersh Wilton: Eric Henry
- Frederick Arnott: Jonathan Dyer
- Caroline Bramble: Sonia Motlagh
- Mrs. Graves: Patricia Kratzer
- Antony Wilding: Bob Scott
- Costanza: Shelley Rochester
- Producers: Pauline Griller-Mitchell & Jerry Schuchman
- Director: Laurie T. Freed
- Assistant Director: Lennie Magida
- Stage Manager: Ann-Lisa Okoye
- Set Designer: Anna Britton
- Master Carpenter: Erick Henry
- Scenic Painter: Anna Britton
- Construction & Painting Assistants: Ken Ambrose, Anna Britton, Lois Britton, Jonathan Dyer, Laurie Freed, Natalie McManus, Anna-Lisa Okoye, Jim Robertson, Jerry Schuchman, Bob Scott
- Properties: Nancy Eynon Lark
- Set Dressing: Anna Britton & Lois Britton
- Lighting Designer: Peter Caress
- Sound Designer: Nick Sampson
- Light & Sound Board Operators: Peter Caress, Nick Sampson, Jerry Schuchman
- Costumers: Patricia Kratzer, Kathie Mack, Anna-Lisa Okoye, Joan Roseboom
- Make-up & Hair Design: Laurie T. Freed & the Cast
- Artistic Liaison: Leta Hall
- Playbill Cover Design: Craig Allen Mummey
- Playbill: Leta Hall
- Subscription Brochure: Craig Allen Mummey
- Hospitality: Kathie Mack
- Opening Night Reception: Lennie Magida & Jerry Schuchman
Disclaimer: Silver Spring Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/7891.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.