Jan 27, 2020
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
“Who doesn’t love wisteria and sunshine?” Certainly not I, and Enchanted Aprilprovides heart-warming trip to sunny Italy to escape a dreary winter, replete with the promised wisteria. Even though we have sun in Sonoma, we can still enjoy the virtual jaunt presented by Sonoma Arts Live, offering gentle humor and rejuvenating salve for weary souls.
Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel spawned two film versions (1935 and 1991) and several stage adaptations including this one from 2003 by Matthew Barber. The plot centers on Lotty Wilton (here played by Katie Kelley), whose marriage has gone stale, leaving her without purpose or hope for the future. An especially rainy English winter finds her craving escape, a chance to break out of her dark mood. An ad for a month-long holiday on a villa in Italy sparks her imagination and becomes an imperative.
Lottie persuades her new friend Rose Arnott (Lyndsey Sivalingam) to join in the escape, and the two women then enlist two strangers who respond to their own ad for travel companions — young socialite Lady Caroline Bramble (Julianne Bradbury) and curmudgeonly dowager Mrs. Graves (Sheila Lichirie). The four women embark on their unlikely holiday, each with their own reasons for stealing away.
The villa’s owner, Anthony Wilding (Giovanni Amador), makes frequent appearances, and we get to know husbands Mellersh Wilton (Matthew Witthaus) and Frederick Arnott (J.T. Harper). Act one is all about the dream and the path to realizing it, and act two takes us to the villa and its recipe for rejuvenation. There’s an Italian housekeeper, Costanza (Laura J. Davies), who’s the cook and comic relief.
A period piece, the play nevertheless encourages reflection on priorities and keeping love alive. A sweet heart at its core transports us all, at least for an hour, to a place of healing.
The acting ensemble is somewhat uneven, but overall communicates well the mood and message of the script. Standouts include Sivalingam and Lichirie, both believable in their characters’ transformations. Kelley has to carry much of the play as Lotty, and is suitably effusive to lead the others in following her to Italy, although too animated in act one.
Carl Jordan’s scenic design delivers a wonderful Italian villa, and keeps the stage suitably bare for act one. His lighting also makes a lovely transition from rainy England to sunny Mediterranean. Costume design by Skipper Skeoch nicely captures period and class.
Quibbles: The persistent bowing in scene changes slows them down and is irrelevant. Furniture placement at the villa hinders movement and sightlines. Opening night suffered faulty lighting and distracting music cues — hopefully those are remedied for the run.
Give yourself a respite from winter and a reminder of love’s promise.
By Matthew Barber
Presented by Sonoma Arts Live
Through February 9, 2020
Thu/Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
276 E. Napa Street
Sonoma, CA 95476
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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