Romantic Tale Offers Love, Laughter

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.

Enchanted April  Elkhart Civic Theatre  Bristol INHeading 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

Impressive Birds In 'Cuckoo's Nest'

South Bend Civic Theatre opened its production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” Friday evening in the Warner Studio Theatre. Before the lights dimmed on the first performance, the entire run had been sold out.

Enough to say that those ticket holders will indeed get their money’s worth. The 1963 Dale Wasserman adaptation Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, definitely not a hit in its Broadway debut, has become something of a cult classic due in no small way to the 1975 film version, definitely a hit even though it is based on the novel, not on the play.

Jack Nicholson’s riveting star turn as convict-turned-mental- patient Randle P. McMurphy was only one of the five major Oscars earned by the film. No less riveting was Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched, the antithesis of Florence Nightingale, whose character name has become synonymous with rigid control in many areas.

Living up to these seminal interpretations definitely can be challenging, but the SBCT players all give it their best shots.

Under the direction of Terry Farren, in a space designed by Jaycee Rohlck to surround audience and actors in a locked ward, the patients present sympathetic portraits of living on (and off) the edges of reality.

Each maintains his own aura of instability, including the “chronics,” who stay silent inside their own worlds and react only infrequently. The patients who inhabit the ward (and world) of Nurse Ratched (Melissa Gard) are individuals interacting in an atmosphere of forced reality from which they have not the strength to break free.

Into this constricted atmosphere bursts Randle Patrick McMurphy (Steven Cole), a petty criminal who sees short time in a mental ward as preferable to longer time in a penal institution. His effusive personality eventually affects everyone in the ward, mostly positively. The reaction of Ratched, however, who sees her rule slowly but surely undercut, inevitably results in a fatal end.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest South Bend (IN) Civic TheatreAs everybody’s nightmare nurse, Gard has become the area’s theatrical go-to-gal for venomous females. Hiding a poisonous agenda behind a saccharine smile and a velvet voice, she manipulates her charges to achieve her own ends, no matter the cost in lives or emotional balance. She is a monstrous caregiver and the female you love to hate.

Cole’s cherubic curls and roguish smile are too good to be bad. His seemingly fearless acts benefiting his less-than-fearless ward-mates have just the right amount of irony, making them almost as sincere as they could be. He is, in the end, their reluctant savior. Cole relishes every minute and so does the audience.

Kevin Egelsky is Chief Bromden, a Native American whose silence equates with being deaf and dumb. His small soliloquies intensify the setting and the emotional atmosphere. He is a big man and I have to say I missed the deliberately violent extension of his final physical act.

Making up the ensemble of patients are Vincent Bilancio as Dale Harding, Benjamin Cass as Billy Bibbit, Bill Frascella as Scanlon, Phil Kwiecinski as Cheswick, Craig Kilgore as Martini and Aaron Bucha as Ruckly. Matt Allen, Clara Ross and David Smith are aides, Paul McDowell is a doctor, Lisa Blodgett is a nurse and Megan Corey and Joyce Dudley are ladies of the evening.

Even in the midst of their “insanity,” there is a question of who should be on the inside and who, on the out.

“ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST” plays through April 21. For ticket availability, call 234-1112.