ARLINGTON Sometimes a little trip can do you a world of good.
The characters of Enchanted April, the gentle drama that opened last weekend at Theatre Arlington, learn that lesson, and allow us to come along for the ride in this pleasing production.
The play, by Matthew Barber, is based on a 1922 novel of the same name by Australian-born author Elizabeth von Arnim. But most people are more likely to know the story from the 1991 film version with Miranda Richardson and Joan Plowright.
Lottie Wilton (Sara Ragsdale) is a bored housewife in dreary London who dreams of the sunny shores of southern Italy. Impetuous by nature, Lottie plans a husbandless holiday and, after a chance meeting with Rose (Lindsay Hayward), a woman she knows only from seeing her in church, manages to enlist her as a co-conspirator. Eventually, two other women, the prickly dowager Mrs. Graves (Judy Keith) and the beautifully world-weary and jaded aristocrat Lady Caroline (Staci Cook-Ingram), are added to the roster to help defray expenses.
Holding the keys to the villa is Antony (Travis Cook), the only character who can really communicate with the property’s live-in maid, Costanza (Elizabeth Webb). Standing on the sidelines to varying degrees are Lottie’s stuffy and officious spouse, Mellersh (William Kledas), and the gloomy Rose’s unlikely mate, fun-loving romance writer Frederick (Michael Prescott).
Given this setup, it is easy to see how many things are likely to go wrong and need fixing before the final curtain falls. Getting there is all the fun.
Ragsdale carries the show like it was bag of feathers. She got off to a rough start at the opening-night performance, delivering an opening monologue that was poorly projected and difficult to understand. But, once she got her stage legs under her, she made the effervescent Lottie a joy to be around.
Hayward, as the uptight and tormented Rose, plays well off of Ragsdale. Cook-Ingram slinks and pouts as a flapper trying to find herself. Keith is absolutely perfect as the snippy senior in the group.
The men hold their own with these powerful women. Prescott finds an ideal tone for his character and maintains it without strain. And Kledas’ character and performance grow on you as the story progresses.
Also of note is the set design by Tony Curtis. Don’t be dismayed by what you see in the opening act, set in England. That intentionally morose look is replaced in the second act by a set so splendid that it drew a robust round of applause when the lights went up on opening night. The period costumes by Ryan Matthieu Smith are also nicely done.
There are a few flaws. The tensions among the male characters are sometimes conveyed maladroitly. The accents vary from spot-on to didn’t-show-up-at-all. And Webb’s Italian is not really convincing.
But, on the whole, director Melanie Mason applies just the right touch. The show manages to engage the viewer without taking itself or its plot elements too seriously.