AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Matthew Barber
From the novel by Elizabeth von Arnim
Presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre
Directed by John McCluggage
San Jose Repertory Theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA / (408) 367-7255

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Sometimes a change of scenery can change people's lives, especially if they're ready for change. That's part of the premise in "Enchanted April," Matthew Barber's adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel, gracing the stage of San Jose Repertory Theatre.

Set in 1922, the story begins during a period of seemingly nonstop winter rain in London. The restless Lotty Wilton (Domenique Lozano) sees an ad offering an Italian villa for rent in April and promising sunshine and wisteria. She talks an acquaintance, Rose Arnott (Julie Eccles), into joining her if they can find two other women to share the expenses. Those other two women turn out to be a young socialite, Lady Caroline Bramble (Emily Swallow), and an older widow, Mrs. Graves (Carol Mayo Jenkins).

Although the latter two are unmarried, Lotty and Rose both have marriages that have grown stale. Lotty's husband, Mellersh (Jeff Woodman), is a stuffy family solicitor who takes her for granted, often treating her like a child. Frederick (Dan Hiatt), Rose's husband, writes somewhat scandalous but greatly popular novels under a pen name and is often away to promote his books. For her part, Rose seems terribly repressed and prudish.

When the four women arrive at the beautiful villa in Mezzago, Italy, they gradually undergo a transformation, becoming freer and more open. When Mellersh and Frederick join them, they, too, change for the better, as do their marriages. Likewise, the unhappy Lady Caroline and the rigid Mrs. Graves loosen up and allow themselves to enjoy life.

John McCluggage directs the excellent cast, eliciting spot-on performances from each actor. Besides those already mentioned, the cast includes Adrian LaTourelle as Antony Wilding, the villa's handsome young owner; and Lynne Soffer as Costanza, the down-to-earth resident Italian cook and housekeeper.

Shigeru Yaji's stylish costumes, especially those for the women, help to illustrate their changing attitudes, becoming more colorful, flowing and comfortable. Scott Weldin's sets are a study in contrasts between London and Italy. The London scenes are all indoors, with various locations indicated by two or three pieces of furniture on a turntable. The Italian scenes, all in the courtyard outside the villa, are alive with flowers, a fountain and an expansive sky, gorgeously lit by Lap-Chi Chu. Helping to complement the ambiance is Steve Schoenbeck's sound design, which features falling rain in the first act and snippets of classical and '20s music.

Although the story is somewhat predictable, it unfolds so charmingly that it truly is enchanting.

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