It's been dumping rain on the South Sound, so you're probably desperate for a sunny vacanza in Lombardy. Enchanted April at Harlequin Productions is just the thing.
There's pretty much no way I can summarize Matthew Barber's charming idyll in a way that'll make it inviting to straight men, but here goes anyway. The year is 1922. English housewives Lotty Wilton (Helen Harvester) and Rose Arnott (Maggie Lofquist) answer a newspaper ad to secure one month's rental at a quiet Italian palazzo. Unable to meet the terms themselves, they recruit two housemates: notorious socialite Lady Caroline Bramble (Deya Ozburn) and haughty one-percenter Mrs. Graves (Walayn Sharples, an equally apt name for the character). Warmed by the climate and lifestyle of Mezzago, they gradually bond and reveal domestic secrets of long standing. Lotty and Rose's husbands rejoin them in the final scenes and are equally transformed.
OK, so now that all the bros have fled the building, let's talk about why I, a proudly hetero husband who rolls his eyes at any reference to Eat, Pray, Love, enjoyed this diversion immensely.
For starters, it isn't trying to be anything other than adorable and amusing. Aside from one unnecessarily maudlin revelation in Act II, these characters are victims of their own foibles. Lotty is exhaustingly chirpy and hitched herself to C-3P0 - er, sorry, I meant an effete drip played impeccably by the game Aaron Lamb. (Mr. Wilton's given name, "Mellersh," is inspired, and Harvester has a way of pronouncing it so it sounds like the courtroom honorific "m'lud.") English Rose overcompensates for tragic loss by retreating into prudishness and piety. Miss Caroline drinks a little, and Mrs. Graves is full-on toxic. But a few farcical turns (and whoppingly improbable coincidences) later, all is put right, we sigh happily, and attractive young lovers sip Chianti and gaze at the bright vernal moon. Ah, che bella. What more do you want?
I can't say enough about Harvester in the role of Lotty. She's always rock solid, but her bright eyes and gamine figure are a perfect match for this character, as are her precise London accent and darting mannerisms. Lamb should be praised for his towel acting alone. Rob Taylor is suitably suave and ingratiating as Antony, the lord of the manor. I found Alexandra Novotny's risible domestic, Costanza, over the top in her first few scenes; but as the tone of Act II shifted, her performance made more sense and quickly became an audience favorite. And from now on, Walayn Sharples must be required to play every character similar to Mrs. Graves within a five-county radius. That's a law I just made up. And you're welcome.
After a string of jukebox musicals and smartypants apocalyptic dramedies, director Linda Whitney turns her thoughts to gentle amore. What fun she must have had designing her set: the dismal clubhouse of Act I sheds its paneling to reveal a sprawling, irresistible resort home in Act II. Similarly, Darren Mills' costumes sweep our heroines from dour, sopping London to sunny, sensual Lombard.
I wasn't intrigued by any of the show's promotional materials. I've never read the original Elizabeth von Arnim novel, I've never seen either movie version and I just learned two minutes ago it's been staged as a musical. So what? In the end, none of that mattered. I'm a dude, I like explosions and football and yes, David Mamet sometimes, and I'm here to tell you Enchanted April is a marvelous cure for the seasonal affective disorder that ails you.
Through April 7, 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
2 p.m. Sunday, $31
Harlequin Productions, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia