Enchanted April at ACT

The 1992 film Enchanted April is among my all-time favorites. Based on the 1922 novel of the same name by British author Elizabeth von Arnim, the story is light and lovely, and yet conveys a deeper message through—just as the title suggests—a sense of enchantment.

But to love a novel (where the reader plays a major role in imagining the scenery and the visages of various characters) and to love a film (where makeup, costuming, sets and special effects create a sense of wonder) is rarely the same thing as to love the stage version of a story. There’s a reason movie theaters have exponentially larger crowds than repertory theaters. Yes, much of it has to do with sophistication (and ticket price), but there’s also the fact that many audiences go to a show to escape, and surround sound and Hollywood props propel one further to that goal.

I say all of this to convey that, when it comes to Asheville Community Theatre‘s production of Enchanted April, I was not disappointed.

On opening night, the theatre was only about halfway full, but the actors performed as if they were well into a month-long run. Except for a few minor stumbles, the show ran smoothly. Lines were well-rehearsed, sets well-executed and the chemistry among the cast was palpable.

April is the story of two English women—spastically zealous Lottie (played by Cary Nichols) and prudish Rose (a stand-out performance by Delina Hensley) who meet in a ladies’ club over a shared interest in an advertisement for an Italian castle rental. The advertisement appeals to “those who love wisteria and sunshine,” which becomes a refrain throughout the play. Both Lottie and Rose long to escape their dull lives, boorish husbands and the relentless rain of England, though the women are strangers and not at liberty to tell each other of their separate woes. Still, they are unable to resist the siren call of wisteria and sunshine, and so conspire together to find two other women to share the cost of the month-long rental.

The ACT production is pulled off thanks to excellent vintage hats and consistent British accents. The costumes are less impeccable (Lottie’s dress isn’t period at all; Rose’s is ill-fitting), but there is much about the first act to distract from the clothes. The set—three levels of decking—makes for an easy way to show two households on stage at once. The backdrop silhouettes rooflines against a dreary sky; there is the constant sound of rumbling thunder. Where the play really reaches its stride is the final scene of the first act where, alone on a train, Lottie and Rose realize they’ve taken the leap and are headed toward the promise of wisteria and sunshine—and cling to each other in fear. It’s a brilliantly transformative moment.

The second act uses the same set, but in transformed into a terrace in Italy. Ginger Haselden turns in an energetic performance as the Italian-speaking housekeeper Costanza; Guerin Piercy (who, as the wealthy party girls, wears the best costumes) warms to her role as Lady Caroline Bramble though she never shows quite the transformation Nichols and Hensley display in their characters.

The second act of April is all about transformation—it’s about how the Italian setting and the unexpected bonds of the four women sharing the castle bring out first the worst and finally the best in each. There is an air of enchantment which the ACT performers manage to tap and to convey, and the result is goosepimple-inducing.

Chances are, with repeat performances, the cast of April will further hone that sense of magic. At the onset of summer, it’s the perfect time to be reminded of what a little sunlight and wisteria can do.

Performances run through Sunday, May 17. Show time is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $22 general, $19 students and seniors, $12 children. Info: 254-1320

Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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7 thoughts on “Enchanted April at ACT

  1. tigerlily

    The snippet for this article on the main theatre page says “Asheville Contemporary Theatre” though the review says “Asheville Community Theatre”.

  2. tigerlily

    Maybe another reason films are exponentially better attended than live theatre is national media exposure, mass distribution, and national name recognition of the actors and directors, etc.

  3. AshevilleObserver

    I thought Mountain Express was going to be assigning Mr. Samuels or Mr. Crutchfield consistently to review theatre, so we’d get the same kind of continuity (and expertise) there that we have with Mr. Hanke as your resident authority on films. Has the plan changed? Maybe it was never the plan!

  4. tigerlily

    Hmmm. My jury is still out on Samuels… sounds like the approach to theatre overall is not some kind of “expertise” but a more open, active approach with a variety of voices. I think this is healthy. Consistency is the hobgoblin… as the saying goes.

  5. Sacred Cow

    Not everyone is interested in the dense, masturbatory style of Samuels–I’d rather not have to wade through an academic lecture to get to the point. Thank the stars that MX is going to use more than pedantic pontificators–it’s local theatre not graduate school

  6. 4 out of 5

    I hear you Sacred Cow. But the phrase “Except for a few minor stumbles, the show ran smoothly. Lines were well-rehearsed…” seems inconsistent with the reviewers other phrase, “brilliantly transformative moment”. I find it hard to have one AND the other. Which is it? Lines were well rehearsed? I’m sorry but that sounds dreadful.

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