WICA’s latest production takes audiences on a journey to 1920s Italy
Imagine renting an Italian castle where the bluer-than-blue Mediterranean Sea stretches out before you.
Where lemon trees, herbs, flowers, almonds and pines send forth heady, sweet-smelling breezes.
Where terraced hillsides generate the richest olive oil and the most satisfying wine.
Such a place might lend itself to enchantment and seems the perfect setting for a month such as a rain-soaked April.
For all those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts presents “Enchanted April” at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 11 through Saturday, April 26.
Based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, playwright Matthew Barber dramatizes the story of four English women who have come to Italy to escape the dreary, unrelenting rain of England a few short years following the devastation and loss of World War I.
Lotty Wilton and Rose Arnott are two middle-class women trapped in unsatisfying marriages.
Their plight is cleverly and
frequently compared to the widows of World War I. They all, to some degree, have lost their husbands.
The housewives plan their “escape” after reading a mesmerizing classified advertisement about an Italian villa to be let for the month of April.
Surreptitiously concealing their plan from their husbands, they manage to find two other ladies of high-standing — dowager, Mrs. Clayton Graves and modern socialite, Lady Caroline Bramble — to share expenses and set off on the adventure that will change their lives forever.
It takes a series of occurrences to get Lotty and Rose’s husbands to the Mezzago castle. But, with strong dramatic effect the men manage to join them and come to blossom almost as much as the women do.
Rose’s husband Frederick is forced to choose to embrace or reject the love he had been ignoring, and Lotty’s Mellersh must decide if his stuffy, uptight ways are worth losing his wife over.
K. Sandy O’Brien directs the play and besides the fact that she thought it well-written, she had some thoughts about why it appealed to her beyond its satisfying story.
“When I got the opportunity to direct it, my excitement was interrupted by comments like ‘Hey, isn’t that ‘Enchanted April’ a chick play? Chick play? Did they mean the kind of play where a group of characters start to discover what life will be after experiencing World War I?” O’Brien asked.
“Maybe it was the fact that these characters are in relationships that are encountering rough seas. It is true that there are no car chases, but instead what is found is a moment in Italy we all wish for; a time and place where everything seems just right.”
Deana Duncan plays Lotty, an indomitable spirit who simply will not take no for an answer to the happiness that is there for the taking.
“I was drawn to the story as soon as I read it, as anyone who has ever dreamed of an escape will be,” Duncan said.
“But, tonally, ‘Enchanted April’ is tricky. The play can seem very light and whimsical, it’s lovely really.”
However, said Duncan, go a bit deeper into what lies beneath the lovely light of Italy and one sees the devastation these characters deal with after an entire generation of men are lost.
“What do we do when we realize our dreams are lost,” Duncan said.
“Everything has shifted; the world has moved on and we’ve been left behind.”
Lotty takes matters into her own hands when she decides to do this very uncustomary thing for women in 1922. She uses her own money to buy herself a vacation; or the freedom to do as she likes without her husband’s approval.
Duncan sees Lotty’s extraordinary actions as her willingness to herd herself and everyone around her toward change. What she previously read as a character who was written as kind of narrator, she said, has become a delightfully whole person under the direction of O’Brien.
“I hope the audience falls in love with Lotty,” Duncan said.
“I hope they watch her romp through her life and decide to romp through theirs a bit more!”
As the actors try to translate what lies beneath the text to reveal the complicated emotional life of these characters, such complexity is also a challenge as regards the visual aspect of “Enchanted April.”
Costume designer Julie Cuhna and set designer Jason Dittmer both have the tricky task of creating for the audience a visual reflection of the emotional cycle that follows the characters from the dreary London of Act I to an aromatic, sunlit Italy of Act II.
“The costumes worn by the cast are a large part of the discourse that is defined by the tension between letting go and holding tight to what was lost before the war,” Cuhna said.
“For example, Lady Caroline’s choice of clothing is inspired by society’s desire to move toward modern ideas and attitudes.”
At the same time, Cuhna said, the fashion worn by Rose, Lotty and Mrs. Graves, reveals society’s general nostalgia for the way things were before the war.
Dittmer said his goals for the design are to express the sharp and hard focus of memory and to create an environment that is both foreign and dynamic for the characters.
These characters are negotiating their way through a world that is rapidly changing and Italy becomes an oasis following the storm.
Lotty puts it eloquently.
“Were it only that some enchantment would step in for us all, to change what we have into what we wish for. To bridge the awkward gap between all of our many befores and afters. Because, for every after found, a before must be lost. And loss is, by nature, an unbalancing thing.”
The theater is about creating an illusion so fluent that it allows the audience a respite from reality.
O’Brien said that her particular challenge here is to create a place in time where everything falls away and one is left with a perfect moment.
“Our goal is to make this April enchanted,” O’Brien said. “If that is a ‘chick play,’ then don’t miss it.”
“Enchanted April” runs at
7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, April 11 through April 26 and at
2 p.m. Sundays.
Tickets cost $16 for adults; $14 for seniors; and $12 for youths.
An opening night reception hosted by The Edgecliff Restaurant & Lounge follows the Friday,
April 11 performance. Call
221-8268 or visit www.WICAonline.com.