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Enchanted April at the Masquers

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 17 August 2005

There is a lot of serendipity around. Everything confirms each of our current impressions of the world. Lately, in order to complete my Masquers’ review in time for the This time publication, I have had to attend a rehearsal rather than the play. There is something unfinished about a rehearsal, but it is also more intriguing: what efforts have been spent and combined to create the illusions of theatre?

Having held the position as Masquers’ Reviewer for only a short time, I am still learning a great deal about my role. Like every other Masquer, I am a volunteer. There is something enormously valuable about being a volunteer; the position is interesting. Amongst other things, I am free to wonder. How much of a play’s performance comes from the quality of the writing, how much from the director’s interpretation, and how much from the actors’ efforts?

Arthur Atlas directs Enchanted April. This is a romantic comedy about two repressed London housewives who find additional female housemates to rent a villa in the Italian countryside. I think, but don’t know, that the story line is weak. These actors are ordinary people playing a character which evolves during the play. As a novice reviewer I cannot be sure that I can tell these identities apart.

Perhaps this is the goal of good theatre.

I do wish that North Americans would control their fondness for mimicking British accents. Very very very few of them do it well. The result is distracting. Not enough disruption for one to fail to comprehend the spoken word, but sufficiently unsettling for one to wonder if these scenes are supposed to be parodies of something else.

There are several great moments in the play: some of staging, others of insight and comedy.

Discussing the trip to Italy, the husband and wife teams on two sides of the stage engage in juxtaposed conversations (and outrage) which are beautifully interwoven. Some of the comedy scenes are downright hilarious.

Michelle Delattre (as Lotty) begins as a mildly unhappy but mostly subservient wife. Her naive yearning is almost embarrassing to watch. As Lotty’s character unfolds, she becomes a stronger and more vital person, getting more beautiful as she grows. Lotty wraps up her audience with the tying up, knotting, and letting down of masses of shiny brown hair.

Rose (played by Kristine Ann Lowry) begins as an uncertain housewife and a washout. Having no opinion of her own, it is unclear how she manages to make the decision to go to Italy. As her character develops though, she does a creditable job enforcing her few strengths, for example her fervent praying in the train. In general, the audience only get a sense of her presence when she voices a religious objection. Rose’s flirting with the artist seems out of character but it does make the outcome of the play somewhat uncertain.

Lady Caroline (played by Siobhan O’Brien) is a bored, insatiable party girl. She trails around the stage demeaning most objects with regal disdain. Lady Caroline has some other great moments, such as revealing her loss and grief.

Mrs. Graves (played by Loralee Windsor) is an ageing dragon so predictable that it is almost funny. That Lotty and Rose can’t see what they are getting into is curious. Mrs. Graves delivers acerbity as expected. She also transforms in the second act to a joyous and youthful middle-age.

Costanza (played by Jeanette Sarmiento) is hands-down the funniest character in the play. She brings joie de vivre to the audience in a completely comprehensible and enjoyable way. And, as it turns out, Jeannette is not even Italian!

The male characters didn’t have much chance in this play.

Mellersh (played by Keith Jefferds) is an elderly stuffed shirt who presents Lotty with a compelling case to depart to Italy in spite of the rain. In fact, one suspects that the man (or the character) is really very old, until that moment in the play where he unclothes his emotions. He brings great humour to his bath, Italian studies and piano playing.

Freddie (played by Kyle Johnson) starts his performance as a party animal in a fabulous jacket. He has a most engaging smile with which he charms the females in his proximity. I have seen Kyle’s smile in another Masquers’ performance where it had a quite different meaning, thereby confirming my belief that Kyle’s smile may need to be registered as a dangerous weapon! Freddie has no trouble convincing the audience that he is a bounder. Freddie’s ignoring of Lady Caroline when he first reunites with Rose is not well explained. However, he doesn’t have much trouble later convincing us of his redemption.

Anthony Wilding (played by Brian Jones) may be a poorly defined character: he is devoted to the person responsible for his strict upbringing; he flirts with married women in a stuffed gentlemanly way; and then he engages in familiar wholesale comedy with his kitchen maid, all-in-all a tenuous character. Brian brings the parts together as a handsome man with a diffident and quirky manner.

Lotty’s soliloquy was enchanting. More, perhaps the meaning of the whole play. Lotty took us on a journey to a new world (her world), then went back and collected her family and friends and brought them into this new world and made it their world too. She achieved this miracle in a dreary rainy winter by becoming strong enough to imagine a different life in a different place. And strong enough to take the first few steps in moving that dream into reality.

Lotty’s family and friends gave her great support for following her dream by responding to her letters, learning Italian, listening to her yearnings, and other things. In doing so, all of these characters metamorphosized into other people: better, happier, more interesting, more content people.

The day I saw this play, I didn’t understand it very well, and I didn’t understand how I felt about it. That same day one of my very best friends, Christine Jensen, died too young. Here is the serendipity:
We have a life to live which can be filled with as much love and interest and humour as we choose. It is the choosing that is difficult; our friends and family will support us once we get started.

For me, Goodbye Christine. For you, Enchanted April is a good play to see.