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Friday, August 1, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 64.0° F  Light Rain
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The great escape
Enchanted April slips away to Italy
Each actress creates a fully realized character.
Each actress creates a fully realized character.

Enchanted April
Strollers Theatre, running through May 26 at the Bartell Theatre

I'll admit to being not only an Anglophile, but also a sucker for that specialized breed of English drama that centers on the psychological travails of the upper crust in the 1920s and '30s. Who knows why - perhaps it's because the cultivated, clipped accents and posh surroundings are so far removed from my middle-class, workaday existence. In that sense, I'm pretty much the target audience for Strollers Theatre's Enchanted April.

Many will be familiar with the 1992 film version of this story, which, like Matthew Barber's stage play, is based on a 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. Four previously unacquainted Englishwomen of markedly different temperaments flee their disappointments in rainy, dreary London for a month in a rented Italian castle.

Essentially a romantic comedy, Enchanted April has a correspondingly light touch. There are no dark, penetrating insights into the human soul, but neither do we expect them. What's of most importance is that each actress in this unlikely foursome makes her character both fully realized and distinct from the others.

As Charlotte "Lotty" Wilton, Miranda McClenaghan is the most dynamic of the bunch. She's the ebullient force behind the Italian getaway. Captivated by an ad in the London Times for the rental in San Salvatore - "for those who appreciate wisteria and sunshine!" she exclaims triumphantly and often, quoting the listing - she marshals together the foursome.

Unlike extroverted Lotty, Rose Arnott is the sort of prim, slightly meek woman who says things like "One shouldn't write books God doesn't want to read." Erin S. Baal captures Rose with dry, understated humor. Rounding out the group are Lady Caroline Bramble (Karen Moeller), an aristocratic sort who sports the most elegant, fashion-forward '20s costumes, and Mrs. Graves (Gloria J. Myer). The most senior of the bunch, Mrs. Graves has an acidic tongue and little patience with the castle's Italian cook, Costanza (played with gusto by Rachel Bledsoe). She's the sort of rigid Englishwoman who expects life to cater to her tastes wherever she goes.

Yet while this is a female-centered show, the male characters are more than afterthoughts: Dennis Yadon, Mark Huismann and Erik J. Hughes all turn in fine performances.

A dark set and the sound of rain in the first half of the play, when the characters are still in London, echo the emotional turmoil they are in. Light and color come into the characters' lives, both literally and figuratively, in the second act. In fact, during one of the final scenes, Lotty, Rose and Lady Caroline are wearing red, green and white dresses, respectively, mirroring the colors of the Italian flag.

Drawing plenty of laughs on a recent Saturday night, Enchanted April is a witty comedy that celebrates the virtues of escapism.

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