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Love is restored under Italian sun in ‘Enchanted April’

Uplifting drama opens Oct. 5 in Chinook

By PATRICK WEBB

For Coast Weekend

Published on October 3, 2018 12:53PM

Last changed on October 3, 2018 1:00PM

The cast of “Enchanted April” poses in their 1920s costumes designed for the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists production by Angela Grote. Pictured, back row left to right, are Kaylee Murray, Joel Grote, Lindsay McGrath, Matthew Warner, Emma Zimmerman and Sarah Schott. At front are Jonathan Cole and Jane Schussman. Their characters’ interactions under the healing warmth of the Mediterranean sun form the centerpiece of the uplifting drama.

PATRICK WEBB photo

The cast of “Enchanted April” poses in their 1920s costumes designed for the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists production by Angela Grote. Pictured, back row left to right, are Kaylee Murray, Joel Grote, Lindsay McGrath, Matthew Warner, Emma Zimmerman and Sarah Schott. At front are Jonathan Cole and Jane Schussman. Their characters’ interactions under the healing warmth of the Mediterranean sun form the centerpiece of the uplifting drama.

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Sarah Schott, left, appears as a troubled English socialite whose bottled-up grief for the loss of her young husband on a World War I battlefield consumes and threatens to destroy her until she shares her secret. Kaylee Murray plays Lotty, an unusual woman who believes she sees ghosts. She seeks to comfort her new acquaintance, despite her own broken heart.

PATRICK WEBB photo

Sarah Schott, left, appears as a troubled English socialite whose bottled-up grief for the loss of her young husband on a World War I battlefield consumes and threatens to destroy her until she shares her secret. Kaylee Murray plays Lotty, an unusual woman who believes she sees ghosts. She seeks to comfort her new acquaintance, despite her own broken heart.

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Jane Schussman as a lonely widow, left, clings to her “proper” Victorian morals while Sarah Schott as a troubled socialite embraces the dress and lifestyles of the “flapper” era of the 1920s in “Enchanted April,” a play staged by the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists in Chinook, Wash.

PATRICK WEBB photo

Jane Schussman as a lonely widow, left, clings to her “proper” Victorian morals while Sarah Schott as a troubled socialite embraces the dress and lifestyles of the “flapper” era of the 1920s in “Enchanted April,” a play staged by the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists in Chinook, Wash.

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Lindsay McGrath, in her second show, and Matthew Warner, a Peninsula acting stalwart, appear as husband and wife in “Enchanted April.” McGrath’s character discovers that the couple’s love may have a chance of being rekindled by the Italian sunshine.

PATRICK WEBB photo

Lindsay McGrath, in her second show, and Matthew Warner, a Peninsula acting stalwart, appear as husband and wife in “Enchanted April.” McGrath’s character discovers that the couple’s love may have a chance of being rekindled by the Italian sunshine.

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Jonathan Cole appears as an artist who brightens the lives of all those he encounters, including the maid, Costanza, played by Emma Zimmerman.

PATRICK WEBB photo

Jonathan Cole appears as an artist who brightens the lives of all those he encounters, including the maid, Costanza, played by Emma Zimmerman.

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“Change of pace” is probably the understatement of the year when comparing two theater productions.

As director Brooke Flood savored the nightly standing ovations for sold-out “Beauty and the Beast” performances this summer, she had a strong feeling.

“We have all this momentum, what will we do next?” the Long Beach resident asked herself. “I knew if we waited, we would lose it.”

The answer for the Peninsula Association of Performing Artists is an eight-character straight play, “Enchanted April,” which opens Friday, Oct. 5, and runs two weekends only.

Seven cast members from the musical are back (including the Beast and two women who shared the title role of Belle).

“I felt very torn because we had 29 cast members and so many people who wanted to keep going,” said Flood. “It is very interesting to see them do such different characters.”

Flood had worked backstage on a production of “Enchanted April” at George Fox College in Oregon some years ago and still had the script. Having few characters and requiring uncomplicated sets prompted its selection.


Villa-fication


Writer Matthew Barber’s play is based on a book by Elizabeth von Arnim, which was also the subject of a 1992 movie. It tells the story of two women who escape the gloomy London weather in 1922 to vacation in sunny Italy. A 2003 Broadway production featured Molly Ringwald.

Kaylee Murray and Lindsay McGrath feature as Lotty and Rose, each in an unhappy marriage and burdened by painful memories. To share the cost of renting a villa, the characters recruit two strangers, a troubled young socialite, played by Sarah Schott, and an elderly widow whose Victorian morals conflict with the changing times.

Barriers among this conflicting quartet break down under the healing sun and husbands, played by Joel Grote and Matthew Warner, arrive in a new light. An artist (portrayed by retired Beast Jonathan Cole) and a maid, played by Emma Zimmerman, add to the action.

Flood said the show is upbeat, despite its gloomy beginning in perpetually rainy England. “This show leaves you with a smile. It’s very witty, and everybody can relate to the characters.”

All four women are burdened by sadness from their pasts — until they learn to let go. Together they cry, laugh and become liberated with hope.

“This show promises to delight everyone,” said Flood. “It is all about new beginnings — before we can heal, we must shatter and face our demons. Only when broken can we heal and grow into beautiful people.”

Murray’s character, Lotty, says, “For every ‘before’ that is lost, an ‘after’ is found.”


Blossoming


For McGrath, who shared the lead “Beauty” role with Schott, it is her second production. She speaks about her character’s motivation with the eloquence of a veteran actor.

“I play Rose, who is very sad and troubled. She does not know what she is supposed to be,” said McGrath. “She is disillusioned. Things have happened that damaged her soul. Going to Italy, she blossoms again. The things that have happened matter, but it’s time to move on.”

Costume designer Angela Grote has clad Schott in a risqué “flapper” era dress that sparkles in stunning contrast to every other woman onstage. The socialite that Schott portrays anguishes over the loss of her young husband in the carnage of World War I, only regaining her own sparkle when she shares her private grief with an unlikely confidante.

The actress has embraced Flood’s technique of asking actors to ponder motivation. “If you give your character a ‘back story,’ it helps you ‘become’ your character,” Schott said. “I like to completely immerse myself in a character and that’s the easiest way to do it.”


Hella enchanted


Long Beach Peninsula audiences who have heard Jane Schussman with Bayside Singers, or seen her in recent PAPA musicals, will observe another dimension of the 77-year-old performer.

“Mrs. Graves, my character, is very overbearing and very proper. But she is not that way inside,” said Schussman. After rehearsing a scene in which her face appeared as solemn as her high-collared, colorless dress, she grinned. “I love working with everyone — it’s fun!”

Flood, the director, hopes audiences will be entertained and uplifted, while seeing her actors stretch themselves in challenging, non-singing roles.

“This is the perfect date-night show — if every man brought his date to this, it would be great. And it’s also the perfect girls’-night-out show.”



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