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A Voyage to Italy

Dreary Londoners Cheer Up In A Sunnier Clime In This Easygoing Production

TO LET: Laurel Peyrot (left) tries to talk Laura Gifford into putting down a depost.

By Josephine Yun | Posted 10/25/2006

Enchanted April

By Matthew Barber

At the Vagabond Players through Nov. 19

For theatergoers who appreciate daydreams, humor, and holidays, Vagabond Players' current production of Enchanted April is brought to you by an acacia tree legend. A man once thrust his walking stick into the ground to mark where he wanted to plant an acacia tree; when he returned, he found that the stick had taken root. He was nearly about to dig it up when he noticed an acacia blossom miraculously flowering from one of its branches. In Enchanted April this story--and the tree--figures in the lives of people who, despite living in stunted surroundings, discover their potential for growth.

In 1922 flighty London housewife Lotty Wilton (Laurel Peyrot), while at her ladies' club, falls in love with a newspaper ad for a castle rental in Italy. She can't help but interrupt another woman nearby, the unsuspecting, unwilling Rose Arnott (Laura Gifford). After an awkward introduction--in which Lotty calls Rose as "a disappointed Madonna," not knowing her name--she says she envisions them together in Italy, in heaven, in "wisteria and sunshine." "And our husbands?" Rose asks. "I didn't see them," Lotty deadpans. When Lotty and Rose return home to their husbands, Mellersh (Mike Papa) and Frederick (Tom Wyatt), their respective marriages are marked by protocol ("It's not so important that you enjoy yourself but simply that you are there," Mellersh tells Lotty of a dinner) and regret ("Should the things you have faith in include the people who love you, be in touch," Frederick says to Rose).

Lotty next catches Rose at church services--she's already put down her nest egg for the castle deposit--and Rose relents. To spread the costs, they place a follow-up ad for, and eventually enlist, two more women: celebrity dancer Lady Caroline Bramble (Beth Weber) and steely widow Mrs. Graves (Margery Germain). Lotty remains optimistic despite having attracted opposites; she and Rose plan on arriving early and filling the rooms with flowers as a buffer. But their train ride is dark, delayed, and frighteningly unfamiliar. Upon arriving in Italy, they find that Lady Caroline and Mrs. Graves are already acquainted and don't get along. And they've taken the best rooms.

Then, Rose wakes up in tears after dreaming of her husband. Lotty has the seemingly senseless vision of her and Rose's husbands being there with them. Once again unstoppable, ignoring Lady Caroline's desire for "no men" and Mrs. Graves' unforgiving strictness, Lotty writes Mellersh, asking him to join her, and eggs on Rose to do the same. Suddenly, Frederick appears at the castle--there to see Lady Caroline.

A few scenes in Enchanted April were particularly outstanding. Rose and Lotty's back-to-back meetings with Lady Caroline, clad in flowing, dramatic red, and the monochrome Mrs. Graves, dressed in head-to-toe black, are upbeat and dryly funny. Their simultaneous confessions of their vacation plans to Mellersh and Frederick are joint and seamless, with the two households onstage at the same time. The swaying, panicked train ride, full of self-doubt, is entirely believable. And the dynamic between Rose and Frederick is both convincing and poignant, hinting at a hidden, troubling undercurrent in their otherwise harmonious marriage. Lotty and Mellersh, meanwhile, are simply at odds.

Exuberant as Lotty, Peyrot is like Sandra Bullock playing a clairvoyant Bridget Jones--guileless, uncannily spot-on in observing others, yet utterly and hilariously tactless. Gifford's Rose blooms terrifically from a pained and pinch-lipped "disappointed Madonna" to a lovely Earth mother, voluptuous and magnificent. Papa is super-proper as the uptight, fastidious Mellersh, and Germain makes a formidable Mrs. Graves, uncompromising in all her starkness. Weber's cognac-tossing Lady Caroline is ably exotic, guarded, and burnt-out. Finally, Celia Rocca is colorful and completely real as Costanza, the castle's cook and housekeeper, embodying the warm, emotive culture in which these Londoners find themselves immersed.

A good-humored audience filled the theater about two-thirds full on this opening night and laughed heartily throughout. The initial soundtrack of constant thunder, lightning, and rain effectively created a dreary, oppressive atmosphere; sparse English sets parted to reveal the expansive Italian one. Costumes also changed accordingly: At the play's start, Lotty is the only one sporting any color other than black, her hat streaked with reds. But as the play develops, other bits of color--a gold scarf, a pink drape, and, ultimately, white--brighten and soften the actors as their characters follow suit. And although wives and women drive Enchanted April's story line, it's hardly a girl whirl. Instead, it's a feel-good show with a feel-good message that the Vagabonds deftly host in this fun and comic production.

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