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Center Repertory Company mines Enchanted April for big laughs
By Pat Craig

 04/08/09
Contra Costa Times

It is a rainy afternoon at the women's club when Lotty Wilton spots the ad in the paper.

A fellow in sunny Italy is renting his small castle for the entire month of April — a perfect way, the slightly flaky Mrs. Wilton (Lizzie Calogero) figures, to blow the money she's socked away. And if that's not enough she can enlist the aid of serious Rose Arnott (Suzanne Irving). And if even THAT's not enough, she can solicit a couple of other ladies to rent the place with her.

It's not a bad idea, really — four women escaping the rain and their families for a month of doing whatever they feel like in paradise. OK, maybe Mrs. Wilton is flaky like a fox. But when we meet her in Center Repertory Company's charming production of "Enchanted April," she presents the sort of personality that would make puppies seem dour.

And that's just the start of a sparkling and funny production of this story of a 1920s girls' month out. The yarn, first a novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, then a movie a time or two, has its latest incarnation in a play by Matthew Barber, who combines the traditional British reserve with the secrets hidden just behind that stiff upper lip to create a remarkably satisfying romantic farce.

Arnott and Wilton both suffer from lack of attention from their husbands. Mellersh Wilton (Alex Moggridge) is bent on building his business and sees his wife as a woman whose main duties in life are to have meals ready on time and to not embarrass him. Frederick Arnott (Steve Irish) views his wife as a hot dish who has been cold too long, and uses his pen name to write naughty novels and meet somewhat warmer ladies who give only cursory thought to checking marital status.

The traveling quartet is rounded out by Mrs. Graves (Wanda McCaddon), an older grand dame who met several 19th-century literary greats and has strong ideas about just how women — and everyone else — should behave. The final in this foursome is Lady Caroline Bramble (Maryssa Wanlass), a beautiful young woman who wants to escape from the social whirl and the men who often make it spin wildly out of control.

So the castle in Italy is a perfect place for all to get away. It's owned by Antony Wilding (Joseph Rende), who pops in midway through the second act, and operated by Costanza (Kerri Shawn), an Italian maid who is a match even for Mrs. Graves,

Not surprisingly, things don't turn out quite as planned. But if it had, there wouldn't be much to laugh about, and director Michael Butler seems bent on wresting every possible laugh out of the play. He pretty much accomplishes this with his cast of extremely able comic actors and even a touch or two of bare male bottoms (there, I've warned you, so don't call me) for maximum chuckles. The cast is remarkable in its laugh-wrangling, all done without straying far from the realistic characters the actors play.

The play is also given a charming touch of elegance with the costumes by Maggie Morgan, a nicely understated light and sound design by David Lee Cuthbert and Will McCandless, and a flat-out breathtaking set design by Kelly Tighe, who constructed the first act setting against a backdrop of open umbrellas, then blew things wide open with a beautiful Italian villa set for the second act. It's not only lovely but sturdy, because it had to support all manner of physical comedy.

 


 

By Lee Hartgrave

 04/08/09

WHY CAN’T THE ENGLISH BE MORE LIKE ITALIANS?

Enchanted April is this season’s romantic comedy to see. This warm hearted story about four women who are bored with their lives find a way to get away from the boredom when they answer an ad in a newspaper that offers an Italian Castle in a dream setting for rent.

This play is based on the 1922 novel by British writer Elizabeth von Arnim – and has been made into a movie two times. The most recent in 1992. The play starts on a dreary rainy day in England. Lotty Wilton, a young housewife notices an ad in a newspaper about a Mediterranean castle in Northern Italy that is available for sublet in the month of April. She visions wisteria and a break away from the rainy weather at home.

Lotty talks a friend from a women’s club to go with her – and she also recruits a young socialite who wants to get out of the spotlight and an older woman Mrs. Graves (think Kathryn Hepburn) who is mean spirited and demanding. Will this mix of friends really get along? You find out as the story unravels to hilarious conclusions. This play is truly a story that everyone can identify with. We all would like to escape from the daily routine at some time in our lives, and what could be better than a charming castle in Italy. I’m ready to go.

The best part of the evening in this play is the sterling cast. Throughout, they keep the integrity of the characters. Their talents are what make this comic drama, so colorful, refreshing and quirky. Believe me – this is real fun that will be a hit for the whole family.

Kerri Shawn as the Italian Housekeeper (Costanza) shows terrific star power. She is such a natural actor that you really believe that she was imported from Italy for this role. Lizzie Calogero (Lotty Wilton) is delightful and fascinating. Or, as she says in the play “Marvelous!” Steve Irish (Frederick Arnott) in a small role gives a swell performance. Suzanne Irving (Rose Arnott) brings a plain Jane Housewife to bloom among the flowers of Italy. Remarkable! Wanda McCaddon (Mrs. Graves) is audacious and impressive. If they ever make a film about Kathryn Hepburn – she should get the part. Alex Moggridge – (Mellersh Wilton) again gives a fantastic performance as a stiff-upper lip Englishman who finally lets it all hang out (Literally). What fun he brings to the show. Joseph Rende (Antony Wilding). This role was made for him. He is cool, collected and charming and most of all believable. Awesome! Maryssa Wanlass (Caroline Bramble) as the mysterious Socialite, who dresses to the nines in fantastic costumes by Maggie Morgan. Bramble is Jazzy and sharp as a tack. Absolutely superior acting!

EXTRAS: Michael Butler (Director/Artistic Director) has given us an amazing visual experience. Spectacular job! Scenic Designer (Kelly Tighe) gave us a monumental accomplishment that added immensely to the show. David Lee Cuthbert’s lighting made my day. Brilliant! And I must mention the Wig Designer Judy Disbrow worked magic with “Hair”. Remarkable imagination!

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) –trademarked-

 


 

By Kedar K. Adour, MD

04/12/09

Enchanted April is a play to enjoy.

In this age of plays filled with deep psychological meaning, violence and no formal construction it was a pleasure to visit Walnut Creek's Center REP to enjoy a charming well-constructed play with a beginning, middle, end with likeable characters. Michael Butler has corralled a top-notch cast who perform as an ensemble carrying off his deft directorial touches with hilarious results.

The play, based on the 1922 novel and was made into a successful movie in 1992 and adapted into a stage play earning a Tony nomination during its Broadway run in 2003. This post World War I romantic comedy of four diverse English women transported from the depressing rain-drenched England to a rented Italian castle surrounded by spring flowers and a trellis draped with Wisteria is in the mold of Barbara Cartland, one of the most successful writers of romance novels of all time. The play really is more attuned to a woman's psyche but that did not prevent many of the men in the audience laughing and nodding agreement with humorous lines. Some of those humorous lines, reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest" are delivered with haughty perfect timing by the multi-talented local favorite Wanda McCaddon as the indomitable widow, appropriately named Mrs. Graves. For example: "Dotage is preferable to condescension" and "Inheritance is so much better than acquisition!"

The story is introduced through the words of Lotty Wilton (Lizzie Calogero) breaking the fourth wall with a prolog and epilog. Calogero, a mainstay at Center Rep, puts her indubitable stamp on the role with enough energy to play all the parts. It all starts in dreary, rainy England emphasized by the first act taking place on a first act set with a four tier bank of umbrellas as thunder and rain cascades back stage. It is the perfect setup to contrast with the bright, sun draped, flower strewn Italian court yard complete with a two level stone castle of act two which brings spontaneous audience applause. Similarly, three drab and one exotic women are transformed as the enchantment of the bucolic environment seeps into their personae.

Lotty Wilton, an unhappy middle-aged homemaker, with a stodgy husband Mellersh (Alex Moggridge), finds rental advertisement for an Italian castle available in the month of April. To share the cost of renting she enlists the partnership of Rose Arnott (Suzanne Irving) a mousey housewife married to a successful globe-trotting author Frederick (Steve Irish) whose attentions to her are distant. Lotty's advertisement to obtain two more women to share the castle attracts the fore-mentioned Mrs. Graves and Lady Caroline Bramble (beautiful Maryssa Wanlass) a lost soul disappointed in love and floundering in the English social scene.

When the women arrive, an Italian maid/cook Costanza (Kerri Shawn), whose dialog is in Italian, meets them and her hysterical performance steps up the humor a few notches. Mellersh arrives on the invitation of Lotty. Frederick arrives to consummate a tryst with Lady Bramble. They too are transformed into attentive loving husbands. Moggridge's brief stint in a towel that only partially covers his nakedness brings the house down. Antony Wilding (Joseph Rende) the owner of the castle plays a pivotal role in completing the enchantment for all involved.

 


 

By Charles Jarrett

04/15/09
Rossmoor News

Enchanted April is a play to enjoy.

The time is the early 1920s and four women living lives of quiet discontentment in a dreary rain-soaked London are drawn together by an offer to escape to a castle in sunny Italy for a month of reflection, relaxation and rejuvenation. These women suffer from similar chronic malaise, boredom with their lives, marital discontent and less than satisfying relationships.

Lotty Wilton (Lizzie Calogero), a young housewife, is a font of bubbling energy, described by her husband as having a mind that is reminiscent of a hummingbird, “one seldom sees it land.” At home, Lotty is constantly being brow-beaten by her overbearing husband who is typical of upper middle-class men, self-centered and used to being catered to by their “lowly” wives. She wants and needs a change in her life, or she will surely go mad.

Unable to afford the rental fee by herself, she approaches fellow lady club member, Rose Arnott (Suzanne Irving), hoping to find a sympathetic soul similarly searching for the relief and release promised by a month in a sunny Italian castle environment. Rose is equally depressed and despondent, but not quite so enthusiastically enchanted by the prospects of a brief respite in a “wisteria covered castle” as is the overzealous Lotty. Eventually, Lotty wins Rose over to the idea and they place an advertisement of their own, soliciting two more women of like mind to help share the expense and experience.

In short order, they receive inquiries from an elderly Mrs. Graves (Wanda McCaddon), who is seeking serenity to provide a place to simply read and reflect on life, and from socialite Caroline Bramble (Maryssa Wanlass), who needs a break from her mother's constant cacophony and whirlwind of parties and engagements and fawning admirers.

Lotty decides she needs to bring her husband, Mellerish (Alex Moggridge), to the castle so that she can face her fears and forge new marital directions. She convinces Rose that she should invite her husband also. Rose's husband, Frederick (Steve Irish), does arrive, but sooner than expected, and not because he received a telegram from his wife. We discover that he has ulterior motives for doing so. A delightfully comedic and soul-searching situation brings all of these unique individuals into what can only be described as an “Enchanted April.”

This play is like a modern, lighthearted adult fairytale, offering engaging entertainment that will not be soon forgotten. This play is a truly delightful experience.

In addition to the six main characters delivering superb portrayals, Kerri Shawn is absolutely wonderful as Costanza, the Italian castle's chief cook and bottle washer. The owner of the castle is a young Brit by the name of Antony Wilding, played superbly by Joseph Rende. Antony, along with Lotty, is a major catalyst for change among all the visitors.

The set, designed by Kelly Tighe, is terrific, more like an Italian villa than what I would imagine as a small castle, but it is beautiful and works perfectly. Director Michael Butler has again shown his artful and romantic side with this sweetly comic story of love going astray, but returning one day, a harbinger of hope for the future.

I highly recommend this show, which plays through May 2 at the Lesher Center.

 


 

 

- As a guy I wasn't sure if I would be able to relate to this story about women. But much to my surprise I came away from the experience feeling warmth in my heart. Incredibly well-acted! A great story/plot! A magnificent set! You felt like you were in Italy! Worth seeing...

 

- This play was very enjoyable; acting was delightful, the sets imaginative and fun, and we very quickly got into the spirit of the story. The theater was the smaller stage at the Lesher center, and this actually made the play more intimate. Recommend this event wholeheartedly.

 

- It was a wonderful happy funny show .... all 5 of us "girls" were laughing out loud ... the dialogue was very "tongue in cheek" and witting .. A fun evening was had by all

 

- The play was totally delightful! The story is very fun and full of great humor. Actors were well cast and interacted with energy and enthusiasiam. Lots of creativity in the costumes and set. And there is a hilarious episode following the explosion of the hot water heater! Go see it - you won't be sorry!

 

- I really enjoyed this play. It was fun and entertaining. I thought my grandma was going to die of laughter when she caught sight of those buns :) All in all it was a great show.