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A Pleasant April Evening

Little Theatre of Alexandria presents warm comedy.

No matter what our weather may be over the next month, the atmosphere in the Little Theatre of Alexandria will be warm and sunny, at least during the second act of the play "Enchanted April" which runs through May 10.

The story began as a novel by English author Elizabeth von Arnim in 1922, and then became a play and then a movie and then another movie and finally another play. All tell essentially the same story, how two English gentlewomen, tired of the fog and rain of London, seek two other gentlewomen to share the cost of renting a villa on the Italian coast for the month of April's sun.

The theater is mounting the latest version, one written some eighty years after the original novel. After the latest movie version, released in 1992, was such a sentimental favorite, Matthew Barber went back to the source and wrote a new play based on the story. He dropped the "the" from the title to distinguish it from the rather clunky version that played on Broadway in 1925. Barber's play was nominated for a Tony Award as the best play of the 2002-03 season.

The first half of the play takes place in rainy, dreary London which is nicely represented by a central armoire with different segments that fold open to change the locale from a club to a home to a compartment on a train.

The dreariness of it all is emphasized by Ken and Patti Crowley's lighting design projecting dripping raindrops and flashing lightning bolts set to sound designer Alan Wray's booming thunder effects.

The four women are introduced in this act. There's the instigator of the plan to take a holiday, played with a nice sense of carefully controlled desperation by Jessica Stone. Her first partner in the arrangement is portrayed by Heather Benjamin, showing the depth of her character's need to get away in tiny details revealed a little at a time.

They enlist a free-thinking flapper (Poppy Pritchett is a great deal of fun in the role because she seems to be having just that, a great deal of fun in the role) and a no-nonsense dowager whose crotchetiness is just slightly overplayed by Marian Holmes.

The real fun begins with the drawing apart of the curtains for the second act. Suddenly, it’s dreary no more. The superb set that director Howard Vincent Kurtz designed for the Italian villa is draped with wisteria and reveals a backdrop that will remind anyone lucky enough to have spent time in the vicinity of Portofino, Italy of the hills along the Cinque Terre.

Things may be idyllically sunny and bright, but as in many plays, there are complications. The husbands of two of the women and the lover of a third show up - but it turns out that the relationships aren't as clearly defined as it seemed. By the end, when things are wrapped up in a neat package through the rather strange theatrical device of having Stone's character, who began the evening narrating the story, return to the tell us how things worked out rather than having the resolution staged.

Playing the men in the story are James McDaniel (who bares most everything in a mix-up comedy moment) a smooth Ron Brooks and a rather stiff Ric Anderson. The most enjoyable performance of all the supporting roles, however, comes from Dayalini Pocock as the Italian maid, cook and housekeeper in the villa. She's great fun.

Brad Hathaway reviews theater in Virginia, Washington and Maryland as well as Broadway, and edits Potomac Stages, a website covering theater in the region <a href=http://(www.PotomacStages.com> www.PotomacStages.com</a>He can be reached at <a href=mailto:Brad@PotomacStages.com> Brad@PotomacStages.com.

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