Enchanted April On Stage Again at 2nd Space

Mar 16, 2022 | 2022 Articles, Terrance V. Mc Arthur, Theatre

by Terrance Mc Arthur

Start with a dreary, rainy English March, take an Italian castle, add four English women with sadness and problems of their own, drench them in wisteria and sunshine, and what do you get?

Enchanted April.

Matthew Barber’s stage adaptation of Elizabeth Van Arnim’s 1923 novel of love and light returns to the Good Company Players’ 2nd Space Theatre through April 24, after a pandemic-induced hiatus, with much of its 2020 cast intact (health willing). The story has been adapted multiple times for stage and screen, featuring everyone from Miranda Richardson, Joan Plowright, and Alfred Molina to Molly Ringwald and Elizabeth Ashley.

The bubbly Lotty (Kristin Lyn Crase) and withdrawn Rose (Karen Hansen-Smith) read the same advertisement on a stormy London day, a promise of an April in sunny Italy. To fit their budgets, they join and find two travel companions to share the cost of the month-long getaway: the free-living Lady Caroline (Savanna Clevenger) and the stodgy and overbearing Mrs. Graves (Amelia Ryan).

Cast of GCP’s production of “Enchanted April”

Lotty is married to Mellersh (Benjamin Geddert), a work-obsessed lawyer. Rose’s husband, Frederick (Brian Rhea), a once-struggling poet, has gained fame under a nom de plume for racy novels about royal mistresses. Antony (Joseph Ham, with Erik Bako the understudy I saw in this production), the owner of the estate, agrees to terms and approves the services of Costanza (Mary Piona), the cook-housekeeper.

Act One takes place in a gloomy, stormy London, with mostly-dark clothing and sets suggested by furniture, with ominous thunderings at character decision points, and rain-simulating lighting, thanks to Ginger Kay Lewis Reed, David Pierce, and Andrea Henrickson. In the Italy-set Act Two, costumes are filled with color, the set explodes with light, and starlight seems to provide follow-spots for the characters. The magic of the environment envelops the performers.

Rose (Karen Hansen-Smith), Lotty (Kristin Lyn Crase) and Lady Caroline (Savanna Clevenger)

Crase is excited, enthusiastic, and has an Anglicized touch of Cathy Najimi as Lotty. She gleefully plans, has “visions” of relationships, and is one of those characters who rides roughshod over logic and reality. She is a delight to watch.

Hansen-Smith’s Rose is the antithesis of Crase’s Lotty: withdrawn, religious, and embarrassed by her husband’s high-profile lifestyle and lowbrow writing. Her reticence and discomfort as Crase woos her with the delights of Italy is a comic gem, making Lotty’s talkativeness even funnier. Under the castle’s influence, the tightly-furled petals unfold, and she recaptures joy.

With a Liza Minelli/Sally Bowles/flapper hairstyle, Clevenger has a striking appearance, with a flashy wardrobe and a languid, world-weary attitude. She carries all the bad habits of the Jazz Age, and carries all the hurts of the First World War.

Mrs. Graves (Amelia Ryan), Antony (Joseph Ham), and Lady Caroline (Savanna Clevenger)

Ryan has the grand-dame aura of a serious version of the Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont, but with more intelligence and perception. Living in her past, she learns to let go of traditions and seize the day.

Geddert comes off as a priggish social climber out to get ahead, unaware of his wife’s feelings, but the magic of Italy has its effects on the hardest heart. He has a Cary Elwes look about him, with a small moustache, and one of the great sight gags of the play.

Rhea is the literati glitterati image, somewhere between George Sanders and Fred Gwynne, a sometimes-cad who tries to live up to his press releases. Gently imposing, he softens in Italy.

Frederick (Brian Rhea) and Rose (Karen Hansen-Smith)

I saw Ham as Antony during the original run of the play. He was young and vital, bright, lively, and cheerful. He warmed the stage. Bako had a quieter quality, mature and thoughtful. Both are valid responses to the role.

The secret weapon of this play is Piona. Peasant-garbed, she grumbles in Italian with facial expressions and reactions that break the language barrier. She stomps, gestures, and makes her thoughts known at all times. She gives a master class in scene stealing.

Mrs. Graves (Amelia Ryan) and Costanza (Mary Piona)

The director, Denise Graziani, keeps control of a herd of strong characters, and lets the magic of Italy happen in Fresno. Enchanted April is…enchanting.

The 2nd Space Theatre is at 928 E. Olive Ave, in Fresno. For tickets and further information, contact www.gcplayers.com, or call (559) 266-9494.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. You can find the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, and also on podbean.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section. You can also find more theatre coming up on KRL’s Local Theatre event page.

Terrance V. Mc Arthur worked for the Fresno County Public Library for three decades. He is retired, but not retiring. A storyteller, puppeteer, writer, actor, magician, basketmaker, and all-around interesting person, his goal is to make life more unusual for everyone he meets.

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