Enchanted April

Enchanted April is charming, which is its only ambition.

Adapted by Matthew Barber from the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim, the script is sweet, often very funny--and schematic. Lotty Wilton carries the message of the piece, which is that it's important to be open to love. We're in London just after the First World War; it's grim, it's February, and women are oppressed. Lotty reads an ad in the Times of London that advertises a castle in Tuscany for rent. She convinces Rose Arnott, whom she barely knows, to be her companion. Rose is the requisite foil: her marriage is in just as much trouble as Lotty's is, but Rose's heart is as tight as the eccentric, telepathic Lotty's is loose. Barber introduces further tension and a subplot by bringing in Mrs. Graves, an elderly battle-axe, and Lady Caroline, an emotionally wounded flapper.

The plot is pretty perfunctory. Not only does everything turn out well for Lotty and her husband, but Rose and her spouse come to a remarkably quick fix of a crisis that involves another woman. Then, in a ridiculously abrupt turn of events, Lady Caroline finds the love of her life.

By now you're probably thinking that I didn't much like Enchanted April, but on many levels, I did. Mrs. Graves is a Lady Bracknell ­like character who spouts wonderfully imperious lines. Addressing Costanza, the housekeeper at the Tuscan castle, she says: "You may rattle on and on all you wish, but I will not understand you. I speak only the Italian of Dante." Shirley Broderick is a marvel of steely precision in the role.

Jonathon Young is the other treat of the evening. He fills the part of Antony Wilding, the raffish young owner of the castle, with irresistibly effervescent playfulness. David Marr is perfect in the less appealing part of Mellersh, Lotty's stuffy husband, and Susan Bertoia plays Costanza with appropriately clownlike ferocity.

On opening night, Lara Gilchrist was a little stiff as Lady Caroline, and, while Moya O'Connell makes a beautiful and credibly pained Rose, Jillian Fargey's Lotty never quite gels. Fargey is one of the most fearlessly self-exposing actors in town, and she sometimes uses that emotional transparency to good effect here. But her fervor is almost too ecstatic, and she undercuts it with moments of wry sarcasm that don't feel integrated.

Ted Roberts provides a lovely set for the first act: a scrim with a misty impressionist rendering of the British parliament buildings painted on it. But his set for the Tuscan second act is a disaster. Riffing on the notion that Wilding is an artist, Roberts scatters huge landscape paintings around the stage. The concept is fine, but the paintings are crudely ugly.

Many of Rebekka Sorensen's costumes are knockouts. I do wish that some of the everyday clothes, especially those in the first act, looked like they'd been worn more than once, though.

In the end, is Enchanted April worth it? I guess that depends on whether you've got 50 bucks to spends on a soothing, forgettable indulgence.