Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: ‘Enchanted April’ casts subtle and comical spells in Menasha

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Attic Chamber Theatre, Inc.

Play logo and Rachel Sandlin.

MENASHA, Wis. (WFRV)

Some plays… some writing… some acting… is finely subtle. Like silk.

A lovely refinement draws one into the storytelling.

Such is Attic Chamber Theatre, Inc.’s representation of “Enchanted April,” continuing for four more performances in Lucia Baehman Theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Fox Valley Campus.

Time starts in a period of doldrums. World War I is of the recent past. Death and despair linger. Much has been lost, directly or indirectly. A simple classified ad in a London newspaper becomes a pebble that ripples from one reader to more and more.

The reader is Lotty Wilton, who is enticed to act and take a long vacation in Italy without sufficient means and without her stuck-up husband’s approval. Lotty happens to be excitable – like possibilities.

And so Lotty sweeps surprising companions into her enterprise, and off we go on an adventure in comedy, struggle and romance. To recovery.

Leaving the theater, one might think, “Oh, so that’s how some people got through and came back.”

Early in the performance, Rachel Sandlin and Jo Snyder team in snappy, precise byplay of opposites. Rachel Sandlin is Lotty, given to rushing headlong into an idea. Jo Snyder is Rose Arnott, far more reserved and resistant to what Lotty wants her, a virtual stranger, to get involved in. In this case, the immovable object is overcome by the irresistible force.

All through the production, Rachel Sandlin and Jo Snyder are the foundation for solid performance.

Director Autumn Gomez-Tagle collaborates with a strong cast and crew in creating a warm and comical and hopeful piece.

Playwright Matthew Barber finesses language. Little things the characters say bring big laughs or tugs of the heart or poignant clues to personalities.

Who Lotty comes up with for her expense-sharing travel companions is comical in itself – the stilted Rose, the glittering not-so-noble noblewoman Lady Caroline (Katie Bergmann) and the gravely rule-conscious Mrs. Graves (Nancy Ernst). There’s a continual push, tug and tussle between the four women, by word or action.

In the mix are the distracted husbands, Mellersh Wilton (Adam Baurain) and Frederick Arnott (Ben Mackey), the gracious landlord of the idyllic spot in Italy (Glen Kellerman) and his dutiful cook (Ruth Fahim).

Together, the players create an alluring atmosphere. Ruth Fahim provides bonus points for speaking only Italian and stirring up jokes with that. Nancy Ernst is oh-so-good at portraying oh-so-snotty Mrs. Grace.

One comical thing doesn’t happen. In the story, one of the husbands goes buff momentarily in front of most everyone. Not so on stage this time. But the audience gets the picture by what is said.

Unspoken are the messages of the play. They are played out: Take a break, get away, go, do something different, chase a little dream, live… something good might – no, will – happen.

“Enchanted April” is refreshing – and well-acted – in how it offers tips on life. It is life-affirming.

***

Creative: From the novel by Elizabeth von Armin: Playwright – Matthew Barber; director – Autumn Gomez-Tagle; stage manager – Kenneth Ryan; technical director – Robert Ernst; costume designer – Stephanie Graf; lighting designer – Brenda Smoot; props master – Robert Ernst

Cast (In order of appearance)

Lotty Wilton – Rachel Sandlin

Rose Arnott – Jo Snyder

Lady Caroline Bramble – Katie Bergmann

Mrs. Graves – Nancy Ernst

Costanza – Ruth Fahim

Mellersh Wilton – Adam Baurain

Frederick Arnott – Ben Mackey

Antony Wilding – Glen Kellerman

Running time: Two hours, 12 minutes

Remaining performances: 7 p.m. June 26 (sold out), 27, 28, 29

Info: attictheatreinc.com

***

NEXT: “She Loves Me” musical, July 17-21, 23-26.

THE VENUE: Lucia Baehman Theatre is a 125-seat, rectangular space in the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley Communication Arts Center. Lined by black stage curtains on each wall, the space serves as a black-box theater. There are no adornments, and the stage and space are adaptable to whatever a production needs. The adjacent lobby is spacious and includes a ticket office, snack service area, restrooms and spaces for art and photo displays. The center opened in 2009.THE PEOPLE: Lucia Baehman and her husband, Stan, are longtime supporters of theater in the Fox River Valley.

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