Every woman who has yearned for a little time away will empathize with the quartet of ladies who inhabit “Enchanted April,” the gently humorous and touchingly believable play which opened Friday evening at the Bristol Opera House.
The setting for the Elkhart Civic Theatre production moves from the unrelenting damp of England to the spirit-lifting sunshine of a small Italian castle on the Mediterranean Sea.
Although the time is the early 1920s, the motivations of the characters in this delightful romance are easily recognized as applicable today.
Under the direction of Penny Meyers and assistant director Chris Swendsen, the lives which intertwine like the wisteria vines in San Salvatore may begin as drearily stunted growths but as the enchantment spreads, each blossoms individually and together.
The background for this metamorphosis is supplied by the unfaltering artistry of set designer John Shoup (who also portrays Mellersh Wilton, one of the stodgy spouses). Shoup turns the small opera house stage from a variety of stuffy British locations to a real breath of Italian spring. In these surroundings it is easy to see why the ladies want to get away and then how the change of scene releases their inhibitions.
Leading the quartet of adventurous females is the always-excellent Annette Kaczanowski as Lotty Wilton, undoubtedly the most adventurous of all. Reading a rental add for the castle she not only determines to answer it but recruits three other ladies to follow her and share the expenses. Her enthusiasm is completely contagious, excepting for hubby Mellersh, a by-the-book soliciter, whose fixation on propriety could subdue if not crush a less positive person than his wife.
Heading for the castle with Lotty are Rose Arnott (Valerie Ong), Lady Caroline Bramble (Sarah Rogers) and Mrs. Dayton Graves (Stacey Nickel), each of whom has reason to join this Victorian vacation club.
Excepting Lotty, Rose is the only married lady in the bunch. Her self-aggrandizing husband Frederick Arnott (Carl Wiesinger) is a romance writer whose pen name — Florian Ayres — is nearly his undoing.
Lady Caroline is a loner, a woman who drinks a bit too much, has few women friends and seemingly lives on her wit and her good looks. Mrs. Graves is a stiff-backed elderly widow whose adherence to the restraints of Victorian society persists until the atmospheric enchantment slowly wears them away.
All of the ladies inhabit their characters with distinction, allowing each both common denominators and individual characteristics. Here opposites not only attract, but bring out the best in each other. The results include some timeless truths and a good deal of genuine laughter.
The odd woman out is Joy Freude as Costanza, the local maid of all works at the castle. She speaks no English but there is little doubt as to her meanings. Rounding out the ensemble is Joshua D. Padgett as Antony Wilding, British estate agent and part-time portrait painter who serves as guide to his tenants
The lovely period costumes were coordinated/designed by Linda Weisinger and there is no doubt they are where they belong.
“Enchanted April” was a novel in 1922, a Broadway play in 1925 and 2003 and a film in 1935 and 1992. There is a good reason for its many incarnations. One of them is on stage at the Bristol Opera House.
“ENCHANTED APRIL” plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the Bristol Opera House in downtown Bristol. For reservations, call 848-4116 between 1 and 5:30 p.m. weekdays or visit www.elkhartcivictheatre.org