Niagara Gazette

August 29, 2013

"Enchanted April' could be one of Shaw Festival's finest ... ever

By Doug Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — NIAGARA ON THE LAKE, Ont. — Two desperate housewives of the Boring ‘20s realize fantasies in “Enchanted April,” among the finest productions of the Shaw Festival’s 50-plus years.

Dotty Lotty and Frozen Rose “meet cute” over a classified ad offering respite in an Italian villa. With a “mind like a hummingbird,” Lotty maneuvers Rose into flying the coop. They could hardly be less compatible, with husbands to match. Or not. Lotty would “make Pollyanna sick. Of Rose one could sensibly say, “‘I’m happy,’ she snarled.”

Logistics require recruiting fellow lodgers, failed flapper Lady Bramble and the stuffy Mrs. Graves, next to whom Queen Victoria seems like Amy Winehouse. Dotty’s husband is of the sort who declares that if she’s late, “It reflects poorly on me.” Rose’s flitty and litty spouse has an identity crisis. Landlord Antony, who puts the dash in dashing, comes through as the most nearly normal of the lot, counterpointing inexhaustible housekeeper Costanza.

It’s 1922. The World War has just ended, badly for many. Women do not holiday without their husbands, even during the late-winter gloom. While disdained by some as dreary, the first act crackles with wit, fright and conflict, concluding with a silhouetted train ride worthy of Hitchcock.

First prominent as a movie based on Elizabeth von Arnim’s period novel, “Enchanted April” has never seemed so lively and lovely. Director Jackie Maxwell dictates perfect pacing and spacing for a breathtaking ensemble: Moya O’Connell and Tara Rosing as Lotty and Rose, Jeff Meadows and Patrick Galligan as their astonished husbands, vivid Marla McLean as “Commando Caroline” Bramble, Donna Belleville as the delightfully insufferable Mrs. Graves, Kevin McGarry as the landlord and non-stop Sharry Flett as the pasta-pushing maid.

Whirling into view, William Schmuck’s set, glorious with just a hint of the shopworn, nearly stops the show, but the ovation really belongs to this awesome octet of thespians, pulsating prose in eight-part harmony. It runs through October’s bargain matinees and shorter lines at the bridge.

Your enchanted correspondent would go again in a heartbeat.

Doug Smith has been reviewing regional theater since 1969. E-mail