Chicago Theatre Review
Simpler Times: If Only the Fragrance of Wisteria Guided Our Travels
Rivendell Theatre’s Enchanted April
Is the summer heat lingering too long? Are the patterns of everyday tasks numbing and mundane? Let Director Evan Jackson and the Idle Muse Theater Company transport you to a simpler enchanting time at the Rivendell Theatre in “Enchanted April,” an original adaptation written by Matthew Barber of the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. An award winning film was directed by renowned filmmaker Mike Newell.
“Enchanted April” begins with a monologue by Lottie who hopes to be transplanted from the everyday humdrum of caring for her husband. The rain that falls in front of her London windows doesn’t stop and the lines of rain are like prison bars trapping her inside their home. The excitement of living on the edge and appreciating everyday experiences of life, like taking time to enjoy the smell of flowers and seeing the beauty around her, is completely voided and replaced by the calls of her husband reminding her to care for him. Upon reading an ad in the “Times” newspaper about a castle in Mezzago, Italy, Lottie instantly thinks of a woman at her church named Rose who looks like a disappointed Madonna. She asks herself and the audience, “When a choice is presented in front of you, do you answer it?”
Director Evan Jackson brings to life this strong production because it speaks “directly to the heart, bypassing our intellect and reminding us, through our connection to other human beings that are so much like ourselves, that even in our deepest sorrow we all share the promise of a beautiful tomorrow.” The Rivendell Theater on the North Side where this performance is showing is an interesting space. With some 10 rows, the theater seats about 150 people. The front row is a few feet from the actors making it an intimate space and even the loud whispers and footsteps, and raindrops are fully audible. In such a small space, overacting isn’t needed, and the feeling is that you are in the passenger seat right alongside the characters.
The first half and the second half are very different. The first half crisscrosses between dialogues between the lead two women and their husbands, and then the lead two women with two supporting women who conspire to travel together. The second half has the four women laughing and eating on a veranda full of wisteria, roses, and lounging chairs. The intertwined adventure just begins to unfold there.
Staying in the theater during the intermission is recommended just to see the set transformed from English sitting rooms to an Italian castle garden. With no curtain separating the space between the audience and the stage set, and the small space and amount of time that stage manager Sara Robinson and assistant stage manager Cecily Romaynne Shives are given, their hustle and bustle setting up the second act set was engrossing, and the transformation was delightful.. Lighting by Laura Weily and Matthew Nischan was very effective during the train scene when Rose and Lottie are hours late in their journey to Italy. The sounds of the train wheels are audible and the scenery of the countryside flickers over the women’s faces indicating the gloomy first half has come to a close.
”Enchanted April,” which has received numerous awards, will appeal to many folks, from those familiar with train rides where laptops weren’t popped open, navigation by GPS wasn’t heard of, sharing intimate details of one’s adventures online would be unimaginable, and mention of a telephone was novel, to those of us caught up with how we might transform and redefine ourselves when the mundane experiences of our lives appear to trap us. The question then arises: ”What do you do when you lose yourself.” Sometimes the vehicle of life-changes involves travel, and this play will take you away.
The play runs approximately 100 minutes with a 10-minute intermission, is presented by special arrangement with Dramatists Play Service, Inc., New York; and is produced in part through the support of The Saint Art Grants Program. The local Midwest cast includes: Elizabeth MacDougald (Loyola University Chicago graduate) as Lottie Wilton; Mara Kovacevic (Columbia College Chicago faculty) as Rose Arnott; Joel Thompson (Anderson University graduate) as Mellersh Wilton; Brian Bengston (Idle Muse seven -year veteran) as Frederick Arnott; Catherine Hermes (artistic associate, Idle Muse) as Lady Caroline; Nathan Thompson (Knox College graduate) as Antony Wilding;, Maggie Speer (Azusa Productions Artistic Director) as Mrs. Graves; and, Jean Waller (former LA resident, in Chicago since 2008) as Constanza.
Treat yourself, or take a friend or two. You’ll have a lot to talk about together. That’s what friendship is about. That’s what “Enchanted April” is about.
Reviewed by Kazuko Golden
Rivendell Theatre’s Enchanted April
Presented August 8th – September 8th, by Rivendell Theatre, 5779 N. Ridge Ave, Chicago, IL.
Thursday, Friday & Saturday at 8PM, Sunday Matinee at 3PM
Tickets are available online via the Idle Muse Box Office or via phone at (773) 340-9438.
Additional information about this and other area productions may be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.