When in romance
For several years now, I have lamented the death of the romantic comedy. A fervent lover of romance, quirky characters and happy endings, I’ve found that Hollywood has turned its back on this formula lately, preferring instead to cater to teenage boys (although adult women control most ticket dollars, but that’s another matter).
This is why I enjoyed soaking up the Italian sunshine with Reno Little Theater’s latest, Enchanted April.
I hesitate to call this a romantic comedy, for fear it will drive men away (another sad reality), when the truth is, in this play, men can find some excellent insights about the female mind, not to mention two-plus hours of lush, escapist fantasy.
As it opens, rain falls heavily in the background when Charlotte “Lotty” Wilton (played adorably by Melissa Taylor) muses about the humdrum, confining nature of her life: stuck in an always-rainy London, in the restrained early 1920s, in a restrictive, lonely marriage. Lotty happens upon a classified ad whose opening line anyone would fall for: “To those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine …” The offer of the April rental of a castle in Genoa, Italy, is irresistible to Lotty.
She approaches the lonely-looking woman at her ladies’ club, Rose Arnott (Amy Gianos)—assumed to be a widow, with her black garb and somber attitude—about joining her on this excursion. Despite Rose’s protestations that the proposal is indecent, her own loveless marriage to a renowned author too in love with himself to notice her eventually convinces her that she also needs the escape.
The two women secure the castle and seek out two women who can join them and share the expenses. Enter Lady Caroline Bramble (Megan Fitzpatrick), renowned on the social pages for both her beauty and her tendency to “dance on tables,” and Mrs. Clayton Graves (Veronica Fraser), an elderly grande dame who once knew Tennyson and tends to speak to everyone as if they were her servants.
They have nothing in common, but as the month of April blooms before them, the women find themselves opening up as well—especially as guests begin joining their party, and finding themselves changed, too. Lotty, under the influence of the Italian air, invites her husband, Mellersh (Christopher Willson), to join them. Rose’s husband, Frederick (Jeff Chamberlin), is forced to confront his own blindness, and the castle’s owner, Antony Wilding (Mark B. Robbins), manages to crack both Lady Caroline’s and Mrs. Graves’ hard shells.
There’s a lot to love in the performances. Taylor’s Lotty is our touchstone from beginning to end, and she's a ray of optimistic sunshine throughout. I was impressed by, if not a full-on British accent, the English lilt she adopts. Fraser’s Mrs. Graves is hard not to love, even as a grumpy, disappointed aristocrat; her impossible rigidity is completely comical, and she really sells it. Evonne Kezios is marvelous as Costanza, the Italian cook whose big voice and brash way with her guests provide frequent comic relief.
Huge props go to Willson as Mellersh, for managing to embody both a stuffy, forceful, cold attorney in the beginning and transforming in the end into the adoring, vulnerable husband Lotty has always dreamed of.
At times, Enchanted April meanders, getting a bit too caught up in the lush, slow pace of life in the castle, which causes it to drag a bit. And while, in general, I enjoyed the performances, Gianos’ character is a hard sell, one that should elicit sympathy and much of the time doesn’t.
But if you’re craving a holiday, a little wisteria and sunshine, Enchanted April is certainly a breath of fresh air.