by Mathew Barber
Arts Club Theatre Company
at the Stanley Theatre
February 3 - March 6
$37.50 - $47.50
604-280-3311 or 604-687-1644
I once got slammed on-air by radio host Fanny Kiefer for my condescending
review of the play Shirley Valentine. After I babbled on about
how Nicky Cavendish was great but the play itself was soft and
sentimental in a women's magazine, Harlequin Romance sort of way,
there was dead silence. Then, in a flat voice with an edge sharp
enough to surgically remove my ego, Fanny said: "I saw the
movie and it changed my life."
Enchanted April is essentially Shirley
Valentine: the Prequel,
a Harlequin Romance of the flapper generation. Given its dated
conventions of period and genre, I can't imagine this play changing
anyone's life. Maybe it's a girl thing. Anyway, Rachel Ditor's
delightful comic production took me along for the ride, creaky
vehicle and all.
Adapted from a 1922 novel, the play follows a couple of desperate
English housewives, Lotty (Jillian Fargey) and Rose (Moya O'Connell),
who leave rainy London and their patronizing husbands for a sojourn
in the regenerative sunshine and flowers of Tuscany. They share
their rented villa with a jaded young beauty, Lady Caroline (Lara
Gilchrist), and an imperious Victorian widow, Mrs. Graves (Shirley
The shadow of the Great War hangs over everyone. Dead babies,
dead husbands and shell shock are among the characters' dark secrets.
But effervescent Lotty is determined that "enchanting" San
Salvatore will spell their salvation. And sure enough, with the
help of the villa's charming English owner (Jonathon Young) and
his hilarious, no-nonsense Italian housekeeper Costanza (Susan
Bertoia), spring is restored to all their wintry lives under the
Unlike Shirley Valentine, who takes a Greek lover and ditches
her yobbo husband, these gals are content just to reform their
mates. Lotty's is a stuffed-shirt solicitor (David Marr) whose
comic em-bare-ass-ment is the naughtiest bit in the play. Rose
is lumbered with a creepy author of "salacious biographies" (Scott
Bellis) who fools around on her. Neither deserves his redemption.
Just like the Arts Club's recent Sexy
Laundry--which returns to
the Granville Island stage in March--Enchanted
April argues that
even the most hopelessly reprobate man can and should be saved
by the love of his good woman.
At moments I thought two of the women might get together: Lotty
and Rose? Lotty and Caroline? In the end Mrs. Graves and Costanza
pair off, but only for the curtain call.
Lovely performances right across the cast are enhanced by Rebekka
Sorenson's gorgeous period costumes. Ted Roberts effectively evokes
gloomy London with simple projections, but his Tuscan villa looks
disappointingly like an inexpensive stage set. Lotty, though, calls
it "paradise" and says it changed her life.
Who am I to argue?