The little theater at the edge of a corral in Refugio Canyon may not look like a portal to other worlds, but with Miller James directing and making the costumes, Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre’s upcoming production of Enchanted April promises to take audience on a convincing imaginary journey, first to dreary London and then to a sun-splashed villa in Tuscany. They will be following the trail of Lottie Wilton (Shannon Saleh) and Rose Arnott (Jean Hall), a desperately bored pair of English housewives who have schemed together to ditch their husbands for an April fling in Italy. Unable to cover the full cost of such an escapade on their own, the two reluctantly engage two more women, Lady Caroline Bramble (Britni Alleman) and Mrs. Graves (Marion Freitag), to share the expenses and the villa.
While the first act, which takes place in London, portrays the drab reality from which Lottie and Rose yearn to depart, the second act conveys both the reality of a sunny Mediterranean spring and the fantasies of a new start in romance that all four women, in one way or another, carry with them. Barbara Tzur will play the villa’s maid — a part that’s entirely in Italian — while Ryan Price has the privilege of portraying the villa’s suavely charming owner. Eventually a pair of husbands, played in this production by Dillon Yuhasz and Thomas Carlisle, will interrupt this idyll, but not before the women have a chance to blossom in the sun — and of course get on each other’s nerves.
For James, who appears to be making a habit out of directing sophisticated comedies for Circle Bar B producers David and Susie Couch, the show is a chance to “feel like an adult among adults.” The director, who teaches theater during the school year, told me that he feels a little selfish for enjoying it so much but that there is something special about working closely with a group that doesn’t need acting lessons, just top-quality direction. The second act set, which James describes as “an expressionist take on white curtains and Mediterranean sun,” is by William York Hyde, with scenic art by Alleman.
In the years following the popular 1992 Mike Newell film adaptation, playwright Matthew Barber returned to the 1922 novel by Elizabeth von Arnim looking for an effective way to re-create the story’s magic live onstage. His solution, which premiered in Hartford in 2000 and went on to a successful Broadway run, was to break the action in half and put the dream of Italy out of reach for the entire first act. It will be a pleasure to share the experience of opening that second act door on paradise when the play debuts on Friday, July 25. Enchanted April continues at Circle Bar B Dinner Theatre on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sunday matinees through September 7. For tickets, call (805) 967-1962 or visit circlebarbtheatre.com.