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Coming to life: Randolph in Enchanted April.

Late Bloomers
By James Yeara

Enchanted April

By Matthew Barber, Directed by Normi Noel

Shakespeare & Company, through Sept. 2

Enchanted April’s final image is one of joyous humanity: Lotty Wilton (the sublime Diane Prusha), arms outstretched, spins slowly downstage-center as petals cascade from above, her face bathed in warm light so that she glows with satisfaction. The scene sums up the effect of Normi Noel’s production at Shakespeare & Company, for it is a production for mature audiences, in the fullest senses of “mature.” Redemptive, restorative and sexy, Enchanted April is the theatrical equivalent of a “chick flick.” Call it a “mama drama,” for Enchanted April is as rich with mature feminine fantasies as those teenage girl-bonding movies. Think “The Traveling Sisterhood of the Ladies Who Brunch” and you have the effect of (and the target audience for) Enchanted April.

From its origin as an upper-class 1921 novel, made into an admired 1991 movie, this 2003 play adaptation has proven its regional popularity with the merlot-and-brie bunch. The play’s 13 scenes are broken into two acts. The first act is wet and stormy England, depicted under Noel’s smart direction as a series of short scenes done by rearranging four wooden chairs and two small wooden benches. The bleakness of the stage is perfectly mirrored in the bleakness of Lotty Wilton’s marriage to staid, gray-haired barrister Mellerish Wilton (the indubitable Malcolm Ingram); when Lotty answers a rental advertisement for an Italian villa “for those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine,” one simply smiles in assent of the wisdom of her whimsy. Of course renting an Italian villa for the month of April, sight unseen, with three equally mature, lonely, wounded women whom she doesn’t know, makes perfect sense, because Prusha’s Lotty definitely appreciates wisteria and sunshine, especially in the rain and dank of England.

In keeping with the suspension of disbelief working in Enchanted April, Lotty’s loopiness (she has visions and admits, as Mellerish memorably mentions to her and she repeats, “My mind is like a hummingbird; one seldom sees it land”) provokes an equally desperate woman, Rose Arnott (a luminous Tod Randolph) to join Lotty on her adventure. Rose’s failing marriage to writer Frederick Arnott (Dave Demke) is as bleak as Lotty’s, which is as empty as Lady Caroline Bramble’s (Corinna May) frequent affairs, which are as severe as Mrs. Graves (a wonderful Elizabeth Ingram), who knew Tennyson and has references readily available from the Archbishop of Canterbury. That these four women could share the chairs onstage, let alone an Italian villa for a month, is the sort of happy miracle that makes stage redemption so comforting.

It’s the second act of Enchanted April that is most pleasing, with its creation of the lush Italian grounds of the villa, full of wisteria, sunshine, and whimsy. Failing marriages are restored (there is a brave scene of Mellerish flashing his bum, twice, that underscores how staid men can be loosened up by wisteria and sunshine); broken hearts can be mended by artistic men who inherit Italian villas; and severe women can be warmed by goat’s milk and long walks in the Italian countryside.


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