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Pioneer Theatre Company's production of "Enchanted April" is a nicely tamed romantic comedy, with a little something for most everyone.
Want female empowerment talk without any nonsense about women's lib? Pay attention during the first act when two proper British housewives, Lotty Wilton and Rose Arnott (Joyce Cohen and Gloria Biegler), scheme to deceive their husbands by planning an Italian vacation.
Want broad physical humor without nudity? Stay tuned for a scene in the second act when one of the abandoned husbands, family solicitor Mellersh Wilton (Max Robinson), arrogantly causes a booma in the bath, playing an extended scene wearing only a slipping towel.
Yes, this is a crowd-pleaser, a production worked to a high polish. On opening night, the unveiling of George Maxwell's magnificent set of a wisteria-draped Italian castle set on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea drew applause to open the second act.
The plot is familiar from the perfectly cast 1992 movie. Two women, Lotty and Rose, cast off societal expectations to hook up for an all-girls getaway with Lady Caroline Bramble (Lisa DeMont), a young socialite who's secretly grieving the loss of her soldier husband, and condescending dowager Mrs. Graves (Sally Kemp). At a seaside castle, the foursome annoy each other as they learn to unwind, well-tended by the earthy native housekeeper, Costanza (Suzanne Grodner).
Everything turns to high-jinks when the men arrive, first the handsome, flirtatious landlord Antony Wilding (Alex Podulke), and then Lotty's and Rose's husbands. Wilton's a stuffed-shirt who ignores his wife's needs, but Arnott (James Judy) is nursing his own secrets as a romantic pulp writer who's been carrying on a flirtation with Lady Caroline.
The problem with the play and this production is that the story isn't fresh enough to dislodge memories of the well-loved movie. That's a flaw in Mathew Barber's script; his characters function as plot-driving stereotypes stuck in a period drama, rather than real people.
And guest director Bruce Sevy, associate artistic director of the Denver Center Theatre Company, hasn't found the right notes to help a fine cast build subtlety into their roles. Everything's played broadly here, leaving little to the imagination.
Lotty and Rose are well-matched in this strike-a-pose school of acting by their husbands and their castle companions. Only the roles of Wilding and Costanza allow the actors less exaggerated turns.
What this production lacks is any edge, bite or unpleasantness, even at the moment of the script's biggest implausibility, when Rose's husband arrives to flirt with Lady Caroline only to discover he's found his wife's hideaway. That misunderstanding, which could have supplied the story's real romantic consequences, isn't revealed, and instead "Enchanted April" plays it safe.
In the end, it's a beautiful production that brings to life a story content to bury its romantic heart in the fantasy of another, safer time.
Contact Ellen Fagg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 801-257-8621. Send comments to livingeditor@sltrib .com.
Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, Salt Lake City.
When: Opening night; 7:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturdays.
Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Tickets: $20-$39 (student discounts available); Call 801-581-6961 or visit http://www.pioneertheatre.org.
Bottom line: Safe, beautiful production of a safe, beautiful romantic comedy trapped in a more innocent time.