BRAD GODA / DIAMOND HEAD THEATRE
Jo Pruden stars as proper Mrs. Graves, who yearns for a little bit of freedom from her married life in "Enchanted April."
Stellar staging choices make 'April' enchanting
ASTUTE direction, a strong cast and a revolving stage are the key ingredients in Diamond Head Theatre's charming "Enchanted April." With Broadway veteran Randl Ask directing and Jo Pruden among the four central characters, the first two parts of that equation could probably be considered givens, but set designer Johanna Morriss' elevated revolving stage adds another important dimension the staging of this romantic fantasy.
"Enchanted April," presented by Diamond Head Theatre, continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 19. Additional matinees are at 3 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets are $12 to $42. Call 733-0274 or visit www.diamondheadtheatre.com.
A script that requires nine set changes in the first act is far better presented with a turntable rather than by rolling bits and pieces out from the wings on risers. Morriss' representation of London is the most memorable single set at DHT since Patrick Kelly "sank" the Titanic in 2002.
The year is 1926. Two married English women take stock of their lives and decide to do the unthinkable -- go to Italy for a month without their husbands. They respond to a newspaper "advert" for a villa on a lake but discover they do not have enough money for the rental. So they place an ad of their own and, as luck would have it, find two other women who also like the idea of getting away from London.
Yes, it sounds like a chick flick, but playwright Matthew Barber's witty script and engaging characters ensure that "Enchanted April" will entertain sophisticated men as well. Although the story is about women finding themselves and breaking free of self-imposed limitations at a time when women were expected to be content with their lot in life, the male characters turn out to be basically decent types.
MELANIE GARCIA (Lotty Wilton) takes a significant step forward as an actor with her performance as narrator and central character. Garcia has had secondary roles in a mixed bag of local hits and misses, but shows here that she can anchor a show even opposite veterans such as Pruden and Laura Bach Buzzell. Garcia quickly establishes herself as the plucky yet vulnerable heroine.
Buzzell (Rose Arnott) wears the role of a conservative woman in a troubled marriage like a second skin. Watching her work with the character is a show in itself. Pruden (Mrs. Graves), who has excelled for years at playing tart-tongued older women, adds another great performance to her credits as a strong-willed Victorian relic who bluntly informs Lotty and Rose, "I do not like modern things."
Rose and Mrs. Graves find their beliefs challenged in Italy; Pruden and Buzzell make their responses seem natural.
Genny Wilson (Caroline Bramble) makes a successful debut on the Honolulu theater scene as a rich, high-profile "modern girl" of the '20s. Wilson plays it well, although the character is the least developed of the four.
THE MEN -- Brian Gilhooly (Mellersh Wilson), Jerome Anthony (Frederick Arnott) and Derek Calibre (Antony Wilding) -- provide consistent support. Gilhooly is perfect as the self-centered solicitor -- a lawyer, in American English -- who pouts when Lotty forgets his daily paper, then informs her that when he takes her to work-related social events, "It is not important that you enjoy yourself."
Anthony does not have much to do in Act I, but establishes Arnott, a talented poet who has found wealth and fame writing risqué novels under a pen name, as a character to watch. Calibre makes Wilding's evolution from playboy artist to gentleman seem believable as well.
Director Ask keeps the story moving at a pleasant pace. He and the cast are well-served by the tech crew. Mike J. Humerickhouse (sound) and Dawn Shima (lighting) create the gloomy ambience of rain-swept London. Jess Aki (make-up) and Maya Fernandez (costumes) share credit for giving Wilson the look of a dissolute "flapper" among conservative older women.
The one weak point is playwright Barber's decision to wrap up one of the romantic subplots with improbable speed and with no emotion evident on the part of the characters involved. Given the romantic and emotional arc of the story up to that point, it does not ring true -- except, perhaps, in the world of chick flicks.