Contrasting personalities are at the heart of most theatrical productions, and sometimes the interpretation of these different characters enables a show to ascend from ordinary to true enjoyment.
Such is the case with ”Enchanted April” at the Newport Theatre Arts Center. It’s a chatty comedy about four English ladies, heretofore strangers, who elect to share a month’s lodging at an Italian villa and are genuinely transformed by the experience.
Under the sensitive direction of Robert J. Fetes, the production develops from the plodding exposition of the first act to the emotional metamorphosis of the second, inviting its audience to empathize with these hardy pioneers. It is, after all, 1922 and British women just aren’t expected to act in such fashion.
Playwright Matthew Barber’s unconventional plot finds the disparate characters on edge for most of the early going before predictably finding common ground on Italian soil. You may not buy into the concept immediately, but you gradually experience the enchantment.
The humming motor of the Newport production is Brenda Kenworthy as Lotty, the jolly instigator of the project. Kenworthy’s ebullience draws the other three ladies into the impromptu vacation.
Carrie Vinikow is appealing as Rose, the tightly-wound wife of a celebrated poet, who reluctantly agrees to join the party. The glamorous Caroline, grieving a husband lost on the battlefield, is mere window dressing in the first act but later bursts into full bloom in a lustrous performance by Anissa Loer.
The fourth vacationer is the elderly old prune Mrs. Graves, profoundly etched by Judy Jones as a champion of morals and manners. She’s dressed head to toe in black and immediately assumes a no-nonsense air of authority.
Lotty’s husband, given the rare first name of Mellersh, is stodgily enacted by Tim Hume. Rose is married to Frederick (Eldon Callaway) who’s a bit of a rake with another life led under his professional pseudonym.
Completing the cast are Paul Breazeale as the cheerful young owner of the villa and Andrea Goss Knaub, a show swiper as the garrulous Italian servant who clouds her disdain by conversing solely in her native language.
Once the first act is dutifully digested, “Enchanted April” offers a rich and tasty dessert in the second. Or, to use a term often employed somewhat sardonically in the play, it’s ultimately “marvelous.”
IF YOU GO
What: “Enchanted April”
Where: Newport Theatre Arts Center, 2501 Cliff Drive, Newport Beach
When: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. until Oct. 13
Information: (949) 631-0288; ntaconline.com