Four Tryon Theatre Companies Combine Efforts in This Timeless Classic thru April 24
By Steve Wong
Ah, April, the enchanting month for “wisteria and sunshine.”
Four Western North Carolina theatre companies have joined forces to present Enchanted April, a classic story about four dissimilar British women who go on a month-long holiday — in April — to a castle in Italy during the global lull between World War I and II.
Each has her own reasons for going, but they all shared the need to get away from something, such as husbands, the rain, the monotony of life. Through excellent character development and a sense of place, what could have been a dated and sappy tale of women gone ever so slightly wild was instead a timeless comedy that is fresh and relevant about what most women want at some time in their lives — a little romance.
Presented at Tryon Fine Arts Center at no cost to the public — it was totally free — this was the latest adaptation of the 1922 novel of the same name by Elizabeth von Arnim, and playing throiugh April 24.
Rounding the four-way collaboration were Shakespeare & Friends, Solstice Theatre, and Tryon Little Theater, with direction by Catherine Gillet, co-founder of Shakespeare & Friends.
Considered to be a literary classic, the book was made into a movie in 1991 and received two Golden Globe Awards: Best Actress by Miranda Richardson and Best Supporting Actress by Joan Plowright. This live version was first produced on Broadway in 2003, written by Matthew Barber. It was nominated for two Tony Awards and won Outstanding New American Play from the Outer Critics Circle.
In Tryon, the leading ladies for Enchanted April are Laura Depta, playing Lotty Wilton, a drab but restless housewife squirreling away a nest egg for a rainy day and dreaming of being somewhere other than rainy England; Rosalind Ashford, playing Rose Arnott, another stuck-in-a-rut housewife whose husband was often away running in the fast lane with other writers, artists, and “moderns;” Lori Corda, as Lady Caroline Bramble, a modern or flapper who traveled that very same fast lane (colliding with Rose’s husband); and Marianne Carruth, as Mrs. Clayton Graves, the stiff-upper lip aristocrat who rolls her Rs a little too long, directs people with her cane, and cracks nuts with a vigor.
It must be said that the opening and closing monologues would have been boring if not for the skillful delivery of Depta, and the enveloping but subtle sense of place created by Gillet and company. Depta is the founder and Artistic Director of Solstice Theatre with acting, producing, and directing credits in her storied career. By gently commanding the stage, Depta had the audience hanging on every word of her speeches about longing, the past, the future, and “wisteria and sunshine.”
With persistence, Lotty befriends Rose to be the other initiator of the excursion. Ashford’s skill at subtlety is not to be understated. Her rather up-tight character is often described as “a disappointed Madonna,” shoring up Rose’s self-imposed caution and timidity. Ashford delivered the 2019 reading of the one-woman show Shirley Valentine at the Arts Center. Professionally, she has played off-off-Broadway, off-Broadway, on the big and little screens, and at various regional playhouses. She literally lets her hair down in the second act.
Set Designer Stan Peal is commended for creating two sets that transported the theatre-lovers to dark and rainy England in the first act and a refreshing Italian garden in act two. With minimalist intention, the stage was first set with three pairs of paneled doors, each with straight-back wooden chairs. Each set of doors — along with a little imagination — served for several short scenes in which the women began to plot their holiday. This gave the play a somber tone, but in the second act, the stage opened up with a spacious Italian garden with an arbor hung with wisteria, marble benches, a chaise longue, and veranda against a blue sky. It reminded me of when Dorthy landed in Oz and opened the door to her black-and-white house to the Technicolor of Munchkin Land.
With some trepidation, Lotty and Rose arrive via a midnight train at the castle with the good intentions of making it ready for their housemates, only to find Lady Caroline sunning in less attire than is proper and Mrs. Graves complaining. They had arrived the day before and had not only taken the best and bigger bedrooms but had had the extra beds crammed into Lotty and Rose’s less spacious accommodations. Lady Caroline and Mrs. Graves were on opposite ends of the snooty spectrum: from too cool to associate with dullards to too cold to associate with anyone, especially not with the cook, played with delightful comic relief by Darlene Cah.
Corda is best known for her singing and has toured nationally with musicals. Her favorite roles have been leads in Evita and Annie Get Your Gun. Now a resident of Columbus, NC, she has more recently performed classical recitals and with the jazz band Zendetta. As Lady Caroline, Corda reigned as the youngest of the four women and set her social boundary beyond their reach.
Carruth is a native of Tryon and the Executive Director of the Fine Arts Center. She holds a bachelor’s degree in speech and drama, and has studied and performed in London, New York City, and San Antonio. Despite the demands of her work, she has kept her hand in acting with roles such as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Grace in Grace & Glory. As Mr. Clayton, Carruth was the epitome of snobbery but not above the attention of a younger man.
Speaking of men, four of them had supporting but very important roles in Enchanted April. Ben Dawkins played Mellersh Wilton, Lotty’s nicely overbearing husband, who expects his meals to be on time. Joel Perkin played Frederick Arnott, Rose’s husband, a writer of some acclaim who tours without his wife. Andy Millard played Antony Wilding, the harmless flirt and owner of the castle. And Jim Solberg was the ever-present but ever-silent butler. Men, in general, were a major reason these women needed an all-girls-get-away; these men, as individuals, are eventually redeemed for the inevitable happy ending.
Producing a play is never easy, but the combined efforts of the four theatre companies in the Tryon vicinity are proof that creative cooperation has its rewards. They should be proud of Enchanted April, for successfully tackling a play that is so dependent upon subtly, character development, and sense of place. For all who saw it, it was an enchanted evening.
Enchanted April runs Saturday, April 23 @ 7:30 pm and Sunday. April 24 @ 3 pm at Tryon Arts Center, 34 Melrose Ave. In Tryon, NC. Visit tryonarts.org/events for reservations.