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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

Sweet, breezy “Enchanted April”

From KC Metropolis: Kansas City’s Online Journal for the Performing Arts

By Libby Hanssen   Tue, Apr 12, 2011

The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre’s little comedy of manners, “Enchanted April” tells the story of a post-WWI ladies’ holiday to Italy.

Sweet, breezy "Enchanted April"

The Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre put on a sweet little comedy of manners in Enchanted April. The production was enjoyable, but faltered at a few points, causing a somewhat lackluster show. The script was an adaption by Matthew Barber from Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel.

Director Linda Ade Brand worked with a talented cast of veterans. The material offered many funny lines which allowed for great comedic work from the actors, though the more serious undercurrents never rose to a level of importance to develop any lasting tension. The characters weren’t given much room to develop beyond our first perceptions, the relationships came across as stilted, and the resolution inorganic. The design lacked finesse, with both costumes and set exhibiting a raw quality that didn’t fit with the era. However, the overall appeal of the piece came through as the characters explored freedoms beyond their social norms.

Set first in England after World War I, the story follows two proper middle class women, Lotte Wilton and Rose Arnott, who feel trapped by their social roles and unhappy marriages. Unbeknownst to their husbands, they arrange for a vacation to an Italian castle. To help cover expenses they advertise for two other ladies to join them and the interested parties turn out to be a young “modern” woman, Lady Caroline Bramble, and a very proper, disapproving older woman, Mrs. Graves. Once in Italy, the social roles are thrown off and they enjoy personal and emotional freedom, which ironically makes them miss their husbands. With the addition of the owner of the castle, a young, well-mannered artist, and the bawdy, high-energy cook Costanza, the party is complete.

Katie Gilchrist opened the performance with an enthusiastic monologue foreshadowing the overarching theme of allowing love to blossom naturally. Gilchrist played the impulsive and easygoing Lotte Wilton with a naïve eagerness that pulled everyone into her vacation scheme. Her somewhat reluctant co-conspirator, Rose Arnott, was played by Sylvia Stoner with a gracefully sorrowful mien.

William Grey Warren (Mellersh Wilton) and John Robert Paisley (Frederick Arnott) played their husbands. Warren brought more physical humor, as a rather pompous, unaware fish out of water, and Paisley played the successful novelist gadding about town with society ladies while his wife stays home. Coleman Crenshaw played the charming Anthony Wilding, owner of the castle, who delighted the women with his conscientious and polite manner.

The aloof Lady Caroline was played by Danelle Drury with a world-weary sophistication. The most humorous performances were by Marilyn Lynch as Mrs. Graves and Nancy Marcy as Costanza. Their back and forth scenes with Mrs. Graves refusing to bend her strict English ways and Costanza deliberate misunderstanding of instructions made for numerous enjoyable moments. Marcy as Costanza was performed in dramatic Italian which made use of delightful physical humor as well.

All told, the play ended with a sweet affirmation of love and renewal. The actors brought out the finest qualities in their characters and left the audience with a pleasant feeling of hope.

REVIEW:
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre
Enchanted April
Runs through April 23rd (Reviewed Thursday, April 7th at 7:30 PM)
3614 Main St, Kansas City, MO
For tickets call 816-569-3226 or visit www.metkc.org.