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Monthly Archives: April 2011

No one can quite put their finger on what America: Now and Here is, what it will be, or what it might become.  A roving museum packed with visual art, film, poetry, and theatre freshly minted from the best and brightest artists in America aspiring to spark a dialogue with America.  Who are we?  What does America look like post 9-11, post Obama, post Hurricane or Oil Spill or Economic Crisis?  Art, for me, is about uncovering that face, finding that voice, discovering our collective (and by extension, personal) identity.  This new national arts project, America: Now and Here, is looking for that conversation.  It kicks off next week here in Kansas City and I am proud to be a part of it.  Even if I can’t quite get my finger on what it will look like.  I am one of the 10 local actors tasked with bringing to life the works so many local and national playwrights have written in response to Eric Fischl’s call for dialogue.  We will be performing in a museum in The Crossroads, one of the many thriving arts areas of Kansas City.  Site specific, overheard conversation, guerrilla theatre are just a few of the theatre buzz words floating around as people try to describe what it might be like in performance.  But no one really knows.  And that, in the end, is kind of exciting.  I don’t know what America’s identity is in these turbulent times; I don’t know what we may become, or even what we are.  But I look forward to the conversation.  So far the journey has been amazing, confusing, and inspiring.  And I hope you’ll join us.

Check out the fantastic website for more info and perhaps a clearer explanation of what this project is about.

The Museum opens its doors in Kansas City this First Friday (May 6th) at 11am and will be open Wed-Sun through-out May.  Then the museum picks up and moves to a new metro area and starts the process over.  Be ready: here, there, or anywhere.

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Review | ‘Enchanted April’ from the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre

By ROBERT TRUSSELL

The Kansas City Star

The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre production of “Enchanted April” falls in line with some of the Midtown theater company’s strongest work and, like many shows at the MET, is sightly ragged, a little out of balance, blemished with small imperfections but performed with integrity.

Linda Ade Brand, a director with an impressive track record, has assembled a talented group of actors, several of whom are making their MET debuts. All are committed to bringing Matthew Barber’s play about Brits in Italy to life.

Barber’s two-act piece is a romantic comedy taken from Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1920s novel about four disparate women who rejuvenate themselves by fleeing gloomy, rain-drenched England for a holiday at a picturesque Italian villa. The basic arc — repressed northern Europeans literally and figuratively rediscovering their libidos in the Mediterranean sun — feels extremely familiar, and not just because the novel was the basis of a successful 1992 film.

No, English-speaking writers have been discovering themselves in Italy, it seems, for hundreds of years, much as American novelists have turned to Mexico for the supposedly purifying effects of hot-blooded Latin culture.

Still, Barber’s play is a delicately constructed piece that balances poignancy and broad comedy and, without belaboring the point, colors the seemingly frivolous humor with the long, grim shadow of World War I.

Lotte Wilton (Katie Gilchrist) sets the story in motion when she sees a newspaper ad for an Italian vacation spot that promises wisteria, olive groves and a beach. Without bothering to consult her husband, a priggish solicitor named Mellersh (William Grey Warren), Lotte recruits the depressed Rose Arnot (Silvia Stoner), whom she meets at the ladies’ club.

Rose and Lotte are a study in contrasts — Rose is reserved and literal-minded while Lotte is given to visions and exuberant outbursts — but what they have in common are insensitive husbands. Rose’s spouse, a poet named Frederick (John Robert Paisley) who publishes under the ridiculous pseudonym Florian Ayers, is a supercilious philanderer with a taste for jazz and gin.

Together Rose and Lotte recruit two other women to help defray the cost of renting the old villa — Lady Caroline Bramble (Danelle Drury), an icy hedonist who’s been unlucky in love, and Mrs. Graves (Marilyn Lynch), a crotchety senior citizen who’s outlived her contemporaries.

The first act is set entirely in England and establishes the key relationships and characters, including Antony Wilding (Coleman Crenshaw), an English painter who owns the villa. Act 2 unfolds in Italy, where remarkable metamorphoses take place and, through some contrived plot mechanics, Lotte and Rose are joined by their husbands. A vivid comic character is Costanza (Nancy Marcy), the villa’s chief cook and bottle-washer.

The performances are rich and varied. Gilchrist executes a nice piece of work as Lotte, a flighty, charming instigator who delights in upsetting the status quo. Stoner’s Rose is emotionally strait-jacketed in the first act but becomes fully human in Italy.

Lynch turns in a superior comic performance — big but precise — as Mrs. Graves. And Drury, an actress I hadn’t seen before, makes a vivid impression as the cool Lady Caroline, a woman who hides her pain so effortlessly that she seems unapproachable until she, like the others, eventually loses her mask.

Crenshaw delivers a nicely understated performance as Wilding. In the early going Warren’s take on Mellersh seems too cartoonish, but in in the second act what seems to be an overly broad turn meshes into the play quite nicely — in part because he is matched by Marcy, who seems to be having great fun as the Italian-speaking Costanza. Paisley seems to struggle a bit, as if he could never quite get a fix on Frederick, and the second-act reconciliation between Frederick and Rose rings false.

But this play does work its will on the viewer. The atmosphere in Act 2 ultimately becomes so intoxicating that some viewers may want to join the characters on stage and breath in the wisteria and take evening strolls among the gardens.

The heady atmosphere owes a lot to Warren Deckert’s lighting, but chief among the production’s virtues are the costume designs of Nicole Sukolics-Christianson, whose clothes in Act 1 — corseted, restrictive, seemingly colorless — give way to vivid sensual and free-flowing outfits in the second act.

“Enchanted April” runs through April 23. Call 816-569-3226 or go to www.metkc.org.

To reach Robert Trussell, theater critic, call 816-234-4765 or send email to rtrussell@kcstar.com.

‘April’ provides escapism

Russ Simmons Theater Reviewer

Courtesy Photo
Bill Warren and Katie Gilchrist in the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s production of ‘Enchanted April.’

ENCHANTED APRIL

The universal desire to depart from one’s dreary daily life has been the inspiration for many an example of theatrical escapism.

The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s production of “Enchanted April” is a case in point. This sunny and genial play clings to its optimistically romantic notions without a whiff of apology. It’s enough to make Pollyanna seem like a cynic.
Matthew Barber’s 2003 stage adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 bestselling comedy has been given a lighthearted presentation by director Linda Ade Brand and an appealing cast.

The story begins just after World War I in the incessant rain of bleak Georgian London. Lotte Wilton (Katie Gilchrist) yearns to put some spark back into her banal marriage with husband Mellersh (Bill Warren), a neglectful, no-nonsense lawyer.

After reading a newspaper advertisement promoting the short-term rental of a small castle in a secluded coastal area of Italy, Lotte plans a holiday with a new acquaintance, Rose Arnott (Silvia Stoner).

Although the uptight Rose is initially reluctant, her marriage is unhappy as well. Her husband, Fredrick (John Robert Paisley), is the author of scandalous novels that are an embarrassment to her.

Lotte and Rose recruit two more English ladies to join them on their escape, Lady Caroline Bramble (Danelle Drury) a beautiful and “modern” young noble, and Mrs. Graves (Marilyn Lynch), a judgmental and obstinate widow.

Barber has constructed his adaptation in the most logical manner, with act one taking place in dreary old England and act two set at the idyllic Italian villa. This setup is also slightly problematic, however.

While act one appropriately reflects the repressive and austere social environment the ladies endure at home, it also makes it a bit of a dramatic slog. Thankfully, act two in radiant Mezzago, Italy, provides the story with the spark of energy it requires.

The cast is uniformly fine. The characters played by Gilchrist and Stoner could easily have been annoying, but the actresses imbue them with heart. Lynch is marvelous as the old matron whose icy demeanor melts in the warm Italian sun.

Although her part is arguably underwritten, Drury brings some shades of depth to her privileged but lonely character. Nancy Marcy has fun chewing the scenery as an earthy Italian housekeeper, and Coleman Crenshaw is appropriately bewildered as the villa’s British landlord.

Doss Freel’s clever scenic design makes efficient of the MET’s limited space. (Audience members are asked to leave the theater during intermission to allow the stage crew to transform the set.) Nicole Christianson’s vibrant costumes also add to the visual ambiance.

While audiences may not quite be “translated” by “Enchanted April,” this amenable comedy provides two hours of cheery escapism.

Enchanted April” runs through April 23 at the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, 3614 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. For tickets, visit http://www.metkc.org or call (816) 569-3226.

Review at KC Community News