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When in Rome

Romantic comedy enchants in Sonoma

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GETAWAY Katie Kelley and Matthew Witthaus embark on an Italian vacation in 'Enchanted April.' - ERIC CHAZANKIN
  • Eric Chazankin
  • GETAWAY Katie Kelley and Matthew Witthaus embark on an Italian vacation in 'Enchanted April.'

The specter of World War I rears its ugly head once again on a North Bay stage with the Sonoma Arts Live presentation of Enchanted April. Matthew Barber's adaptation of Elizabeth von Arnim's 1922 novel runs through Feb. 9.

Lotty Wilton (Katie Kelley) dreams of escaping a grey and dreary post-war England and a loveless marriage to parsimonious attorney Mellersh Wilton (Matthew Witthaus). She happens upon an advertisement offering an Italian riviera castle for rent for the month of April. She soon enlists fellow ladies club member Rose Arnott (Lyndsey Sivalingam), who has marriage issues of her own, to join her on her holiday. Seeking to further reduce their expenses, they advertise for two additional travel companions. They receive replies from Lady Caroline Bramble (Julianne Bradbury), a vivacious socialite, and Mrs. Graves (Sheila Lichirie), whose name gives you an indication of her personality.

These four disparate characters soon arrive at San Salvatore (inexplicably and annoyingly pronounced repeatedly as San Sal-va-TOR-e) and though they comedically clash at first, are soon sharing their troubles. A feisty Italian servant (Laura Davies), the arrival of the randy castle proprietor (Giovanni Amador), and Mssrs. Wilton and Arnott (J. T. Harper) serve to compound those troubles.

Fear not, as the transformative powers of wisteria and sunshine shall resolve all their troubles, reinvigorate their existing relationships and assist in the sprouting of a new one.

Barber's script is a combination of magical realism, comedy of manners and farce that half-works. The first act takes over 50 minutes to cover what the 1991 film did in about 20 and the needlessly mannered set changes makes it feel longer. It did not help that an ever-present and oversized projection of rain often overwhelmed an understandably dreary and minimalist Carl Jordan–designed set.

Conversely, the unveiling of the castle set at the top of the second act led to a round of applause from the opening-night audience.

As did the performances from the Larry Williams–directed cast, who do pretty well with what are now stock characters. There are dialect issues, though, and Kelley's vocal choice for Lotty often comes off as grating. Sivalingam and Licherie, amusingly haughty in character, provide laughs, while Bradbury supplies the heart. The men are appropriately caddish before their own transformations.

If you can get through the drabness of the first act, there are rewards to be found by joining the ladies of Enchanted April on their holiday.

Rating (out of 5):★★★½

'Enchanted April' runs through Feb. 10 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thur–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $25–$42. 866.710.8942. sonomaartslive.org.

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