Through February 5, Marple Newtown Players invites you to visit a beautiful stretch of the Italian coastline. ENCHANTED APRIL tells the tale of the bubbly but bored Lotty Wilson (Heather Ferrel), the young wife of a prominent British solicitor in 1922. Lotty dreams of escaping the doldrums of London’s depressing, rainy winter. Her temporary reprieve appears to arrive when she happens across a newspaper advertisement for the rental of a secluded castle in Milan for April. Before she can pounce on the opportunity, however, she has to craft a plan to come up with 60 pounds to cover the rent. Through a little effort (and a few stretches of the truth), Lotty is able to convince three strangers to accompany her and split the cost. Her companions include the quiet and thoughtful Rose Arnott (Cindy Walton), the beautiful free-spirit Lady Caroline (Elizabeth Hall), and the blunt and overbearing Mrs. Graves (Tracy Hawkins). Noticeably absent from the list of invitees is Lotty’s husband, who is part of the life from which Lotty seeks her temporary reprieve.
A stage adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim’s book of the same name, ENCHANTED APRIL by Matthew Barber is half an amusing story of the complications of mismatched roommates and half a social commentary of the aspirations of the developing European modern woman. It was as if someone had locked Neil Simon and W. Somerset Maugham together in a room and said “write something”. Strangely enough (and to my pleasant surprise), the result works.
MNP’s production, directed by Roz Gosselin and Dani Kennedy, is supported by its very talented cast of actors. Hawkins, who plays the conservative highbrow of the bunch, has many humorous at-odds interactions with her housemates, particularly Hall’s nonconformist Lady Caroline. While she may have the fewest lines of the main characters, Hall is able to speak volumes with just her facial expressions, particularly her enrapturing eyes. Patti Allis Mengers as the cook and sole staff member Costanza is a scene-stealing riot, gesturing wildly as she delivers all her lines in rapid Italian. Bob DeMarco and Tim Oskin, as Lotty and Rose’s respective husbands, provide additional laughs when they inevitably show up (announced or otherwise). And Thomas-Robert Irvin as the castle’s owner shares a nice moment with Walton, but this is really a tale about the women.
And now for a gushing paragraph, which I seldom write but is well-deserved here. Ferrel as Lotty is simply phenomenal. Through her varied and well-defined acting choices, she commits one hundred percent to her role. Her genuine enthusiasm flows into the audience from her very first line, making her extremely relatable and likeable. This is vital, since most of the play revolves around her character. A dull Lotty would have made for a dreadful show, but Ferrel was perfectly cast and, while there was no weak link from anyone, I felt the need to mention her talents specifically.
I do have nitpicks, although only some may be controllable. Act I’s underwhelming London set is merely a pair of blank, folding walls far downstage that served primarily to hide Act II’s more pleasantly designed castle set from the audience. While there may have been some artistic decision for its drabness, it came off as amateurish, especially when the walls would sway to and fro as the actors walked by. This was the first production I attended at MNP’s new space in Swarthmore’s United Methodist Church, and I wonder if there was only so much the church would allow the theatre company to build. Also, even though I attended the second performance, the lighting operators were still fiddling with the lights. This was somewhat perplexing, as the light design did not appear to be very complicated, especially in Act II when the entire stage is lit throughout. Yet even then the operators were still experimenting with levels. And despite the fact that I was sitting in the middle of the theater, I could hear them at times calling cues (the sound carries), which was distracting and made the performance feel more like a dress rehearsal. I wonder if the church did not allow MNP sufficient time for technical work. Hopefully, these elements will be resolved for the remainder of the run.
I understand the great difficulty in securing a permanent theater, and the defects in the facility itself did not detract from the professional caliber performances and the very enjoyable production provided by the cast and directing team. Call your travel agent; ENCHANTED APRIL is well worth the visit.
by Matthew Barber
Directed by Roz Gosselin and Dani Kennedy
January 21 – February 5, 2011
Swarthmore United Methodist Church
129 Park Avenue