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 Broderick).

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 Tuscan sky.

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?

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Monday February 21, 2005 2:15 PM
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