By Matt Roush
The laughter emanating from Jones Auditorium on recent nights has much to do with the content of the play the Theatre Fellowship has chosen to present this spring: Matthew Barber's Enchanted April, a charming Tony-nominated comedy of romance and renewal based on the 1922 novel by Elizabeth Von Arnim (that became an Oscar-nominated film in 1992).
But there is just as much joy in the process of bringing this special piece to life.
Before rehearsals, director Doug Paulson and assistant director/dramaturg Victoria McNaughton often engage the eight-person cast, half of which is comprised of FAPC members, in exercises designed to instill connection and trust among the actors. One night, the actors were instructed to play their scenes in wildly different styles, with Murder, She Wrote and Gothic horror among the influences.
The result was hilarious—we wish we'd recorded it—but it also helped the cast find new shadings to their rich characters.
Four FAPC members play the key female roles: Joscelyne Wilmouth and Josie Lawrence as Lotty Wilton and Rose Arnott, unhappy wives in 1922 London who contrive to spend a blissful April in an Italian villa, bringing along a cantankerous widow, Mrs. Graves (Janet Luhrs), and a disillusioned socialite, Lady Caroline Bramble (Lydia Kalmen), for company.
Rounding out the cast are John Gazzale (from last year's production of Bedroom Farce) as Rose's wayward husband, Frederick; Michael Whitten as Lotty's uptight husband, Mellersh; Max Beckman as the villa's dashing owner, Antony Wilding; and Linda Vega as the headstrong Italian housekeeper, Costanza.
For the complete schedule of performances, click here.
Director Paulson returns to FAPC's Theatre Fellowship after having starred in a production of Arsenic and Old Lace in 2005. He likens April to Downton Abbey by way of Under the Tuscan Sun, and under his guidance, this is among Theatre Fellowship's more ambitious productions, capturing both the existential gloom of post-World War I London and the splendor of Tuscany in its two, very different acts, designed by Ian McDonald.
To help immerse the cast and production team in the play's setting, dramaturg McNaughton compiled fascinating background information about England and its women during and after WWI, sharing moving letters home from soldiers to loved ones and family.
There is no more communal art form than theater, and this production is no exception, benefiting from the time and talents of many FAPC members, including producer Linda Ferm, with Lisa Ernst leading the marketing efforts, Phyllis Cox providing the beautiful graphics, and Fred Cannon consulting on costumes and set decorations. Overseeing concessions and ushers during performance nights are Joyce Nolen and Tom Crowfis, with backstage staff including Patricia Yeazell (who starred in Theatre Fellowship's fall reading of The Diary of Anne Frank), and Carmen Guzman and Virginia Willis serving as ticket sales captain.
It truly takes a village to deliver a show on this scale, and Theatre Fellowship is blessed to have more than 50 church volunteers serving in various roles.
Enchanted April will be performed March 17-26, evenings at 7 pm, Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $35 for reserved seating, with a specially priced, $15 preview on Thursday, March 16. Tickets are available at church after services on Sunday, at the door an hour before performance when available, and online at smarttix.com (212.868.4444).
Matt Roush is the chair of FAPC's Theatre Fellowship and stage manager for Enchanted April.