Theater review: Like a loyal perennial, Good Company’s ‘Enchanted April’ returns for a charming post-pandemic run at the 2nd Space Theatre

This April is indeed enchanted for the cast and crew of “Enchanted April.” In one of those wonderful, circular moments in life, this Good Company Players production at the 2nd Space Theatre picked up where it left off.

The transition is smooth and graceful.

Pictured above: Karen Hansen-Smith, Kristin Lyn Crase and Savanna Clevenger in ‘Enchanted April.’ Photo: Good Company Players

The show was the last production for the company before the dark days of the pandemic in March 2020, which forced a shutdown of all live theater. The cast, which had deeply immersed itself in the play in the way that actors gear up for long-run shows, was yanked out of the cozy, familiar world they’d created on stage. In the same way, the closing of the show wrenched me out of my predictable cultural-world routine. “Enchanted April” was the last show I saw under “normal” circumstances. If you’d told me as I walked out of the 2nd Space doors that night after seeing it that I wouldn’t be returning for a year and a half to a theater – and that when I did, I would be wearing a certified KN95 mask – I’d have thought you were crazy.

After several postponements, the show shut down for good. (The day that cast members came in to vacate the dressing rooms was a sad one.) No one could say when – or if – the show would return.

Which is why it’s such a joy it did.


Not only that, but this new “Enchanted April” — which continues through April 24 — made me even happier than the first time I saw it.

The cast is mostly the same, and, from what I can recall, returning director Denise Graziani uses the same blocking. But there is something even fresher and more invigorating about the material and performances the second time around. The wisteria smells even better.

Kristin Lyn Crase is still a joy as Lotty Wilton, the instigator of the narrative. Lotty is an optimist who feels trapped in a 1922 post-war England that feels damp, both literally and figuratively. As the rain drones on, she connects with Rose Arnott (played quite winningly by Karen Hansen-Smith), a fellow member of her ladies club. The pair are intrigued by a newspaper ad pitching an Italian villa for rent that promises sun, relaxation and, yes, wisteria. (Fast forward a century and the ladies would have found the location on AirBnb, albeit with a hefty cleaning fee.) They need to find two housemates to meet their budget, and find them – in amusing ways – in the form of a restless Lady Caroline Bramble and Mrs. Graves (Savanna Clevenger and Amelia Ryan, respectively, both giving entrancing performances).

Elizabeth Von Arnim’s novel, written in 1922 – and adapted by Matthew Barber in 2003 for Broadway – has a feisty, woman-centered feel, particularly in its assertion that there is absolutely nothing untoward about upper-middle-class ladies traveling abroad by themselves in the early 1920s. Some in the audience might wince slightly at the role that husbands – aka men in general – play in Von Arnim’s schema of the way that things should be, but the message still feels bright and empowering.

I adore the character of Lotty, who manages to cajole – even gently bully – the people around her into accepting more sunniness into their lives. In Crase’s hands, Lotty’s radiance never seems cloying or artificial. She gets her way by sheer force of the authenticity of her belief that life can and should be better.

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Hansen-Smith and Clevenger have sweetly defined moments as women with different outlooks – Rose trepidatious about drifting from her assigned lane as dutiful rule-keeper, Lady Caroline intent on exploring the freedom of being a “modern” woman – and find interesting ways to show us the growth of their characters. The men in the show are mostly in the background, as it should be, but each (Benjamin Geddert, Brian Rhea, Joseph Ham) shines in turn.

Mary Piona is a comic highlight as Costanza, a beleaguered cook speaking Italian throughout the play.

And then there’s Ryan, whose cranky, aged Mrs. Graves seems firmly stuck in an earlier time. Yet we get a glimpse of how much more warmth and spirit is inside this strong and independent woman. One of my favorite scenes is between Mrs. Graves and Lady Caroline. Their superficial conversation takes a turn and we begin to glimpse why Lady Caroline is so withdrawn, and Mrs. Graves’ reaction is telling. It’s the first time we see the older woman offering empathy and understanding.

This is likely Ryan’s final performance in local theater – she’s moving to the East Coast to be closer to family – and this role has a tender, valedictory feel. Ryan’s contributions to the Fresno-area theater scene have been uplifting and memorable. When I see wisteria in Fresno, as you can this time of year, I’ll think of her.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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