At the beginning of “Enchanted April,” Cranbrook Community Theatre’s current production opening tonight, Charlotte Wilton brings us news of the death throes of the Edwardian era.
The time period is several years after the bloodbath of the Great War, and the widespread killing of the ensuing influenza epidemic. But the play’s characters in grimy, bleak, dark, coal-sooted England, plagued with endless rain, have not yet accepted that their old world has been demolished. They are clinging fast to their comfortable morning jacket habits — their C. of E. religious conventions, their copies of the Times delivered promptly, their ossified literature, the precise determination of their day by the clock.
Only Lotty is aware that they are all existing in a shadowland, and that flight is the only answer. She will take as many companions as she can on her quest for paradise regained, but she understands that in a voyage of redemption like this, she cannot choose her own, they must be chosen for her by whatever providence remains.
But is Lotty hawk or is she hummingbird? Is she saviour or temptor? Her first encounter leads to the existential argument that will flow throughout the play — is heaven to be found outside, or is it grown inside oneself, which is the view of Rose Arnott (Jennifer Inglis).
Rose is heavily burdened with disappointment and with the decreasing comforts of church. Like Lotty, she is unhappy in her marriage — Frederick Arnott (Peter Schalk) is a successful novelist who doesn’t realize his work is already out of date and will soon be rendered obsolete by the angry voices of the Moderns. Mellersh Wilton, Lotty’s husband, seems untouched by the revolutions and despair of the previous years, and is dismayed by any variation to his petty bourgeois routine.
Lady Caroline Bramble (Michelle Lemay) is one who has tried to move on. She has embraced the trappings of the Jazz Age, the new era that has grown in like fireweed in place of the old. But even the Roaring Twenties can’t scar over the wound in her soul.
The fourth travelling companion is the insufferable Anglo-Saxon literary maven, Mrs. Clayton Graves (Nicola Kaufman), whose choolmistress persona and rigid adherence to the glories of empire make her the most unlikely companion to the other three. Can there be redemption even for her, in the paradise towards which Lotty is leading them? In other words, is heaven a place where healing happens? In other words again, is a vacation really good for what ails ya?
After a dark, stygian train ride through bleakest night, these four dissimilar women arrive at that fabled land they are seeking. Which is, of course, Italy — specifically a rented castle with a view of a sapphire sea and bathed by endless sunlight. The castle is owned by the elegant and affable Anthony Wilding (David Popoff) and staffed by the inimitable, daunting Signora Costanza (Andrea Grossman). The roar of Italy certainly banishes the grey haze of England, but can it banish the sadness from our Englishwomen’s hearts?
“Enchanted April,” a play written by Matthew Barber from the novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim, opens Friday, April 12, at the Studio/Stage Door in Cranbrook, and will run every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday until April 27. It is directed by Terry Miller and produced by Sally Masters. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are available at Lotus Books.