Enchanted emancipation –“Enchanted April” at Shaw Reply

Review by Judith Robinson

Matthew Barber’s adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel, Enchanted April, is seamless. The writing flows eloquently from beginning to end. While 21st Century audiences may not find the actions of the two British main characters, Lotty and Rose, played by Moya O’Connell and Tara Rosling all that scandalous—for their time—running away from their husbands to vacation alone, was nothing short of revolutionary (think ‘Thelma and Louise’).
  Photo by David Cooper

Moya O'Connell enjoying an ENCHANTED APRIL

Moya O’Connell enjoying an ENCHANTED APRIL

              O’Connell and Rosling are women on the edge and they spearhead the Shaw’s production to hysterical heights of greatness. The play has a clear arch, with Rose and Lotty at the center of it. They hesitate; become hysterical, push forward; pull back; run away from their husbands—then toward them. This is the true dance of life. But with each backward and forward motion, the characters gain more strength, more individuality plus more courage. The actors demonstrate this progression in every movement and every line.
The wonderful sets of William Schmuck reflect the two runaways’ mind sets. The drab, dreariness of London in the rain—coloured gray, black, and brown—is replaced with the resplendent pastels of the Italian landscape—alive with pink, peach, raspberry and purple. Square, hard British furniture is replaced by endless curves and swirling platforms. The villa seems to reach to the skies along with the women’s dreams, aspirations and billowing faith in themselves.
Sherry Flett brought her own special kind of magic to the character of Costanza—the Italian maid. Her acting is so effective that even her mocking in the Italian tongue, of the conservative Mrs. Graves, stoically played by Donna Belleville, can be clearly understood. Her antics are bold, exaggerated and hilarious.
Most of the roles are stereotypical: the lascivious, rich and pampered noble woman—Lady Caroline Bramble played by Marla McLean;  the two-timing charmer Frederick Arnott played by Patrick Galligan; the lifeless lawyer Mellersh Wilton played by Jeff Meadows; the tall, dark and handsome Italian lover played by Kevin McGarry and the snobby name-dropper played by Donna Belleville. But even these typed characters have their place in the transformation of Rose and Lotty. All of them, in some way, shape the metamorphosis that takes place in the two runaways, and each of them undergoes a mini-transformation themselves. All of the performances are marvelous.
A thought-provoking monologue, spoken by O’Connell, opens and closes the play. It is as if we are stepping inside the novel to get a sense of von Arnim’s world. We step outside the drama for a moment to go back in time to a British drawing room—a women’s club meeting—where feelings are freely expressed à la Virginia Wolfe. O’Connell draws us in to sympathize with her character and to deepen our understanding of her experiencing female emancipation. It is all enchanting.
Director Jackie Maxwell has hit the eponymous ‘Bull’s eye’, with this potential O.A.R. “Top Tencandidate!

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