by Lynn on September 13, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following reviews were broadcast on Friday, September 13, 2013. CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM ENCHANTED APRIL at the Shaw Festival, Festival Theatre until October 26 and STROLLING PLAYER at the Red Sandcastle Theatre at 922 Queen Street East just east of Logan. It plays until September 22.

 The guest host was Phil Taylor.


Good Friday morning, it’s time for our theatre fix with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and Passionate Playgoer.

 Hi Lynn


Hi Phil


1) What do you have for us today?


Two plays about following your dreams in a sense. First Enchanted April at the Shaw Festival written by Matthew Barber. About four strangers who were invited to follow their dreams and spend a month in Italy, away from their husbands and families.

 And Strolling Player a one man play, by Richard Sheridan Willis and Heidi Reimer. Willis also stars in it, which seems logical since the show is autobiographical.


2) Let’s start with Enchanted April. I assume it’s also based on the film?


It is and I never saw it. But the production is so beautiful to look at and exquisitely done that I will rent the film and read the book.

As I said, it’s about following your dreams. Lotty Wilton is in a depressing rut. She’s always wanted to go to Italy for a vacation but her stodgy husband won’t go.

She sees an ad for such a vacation, at a villa no less, and decides to bring others on board because she can’t pay for the whole thing herself. She sees her prickly, sullen neighbour, Rose Arnott, in a tea room and suggests the trip. Rose is glum and says no. But when her successful novelist husband has to go on a book tour Rose relents.

This is soon followed by Caroline Bramble, an upper class glamour girl, and Mrs. Graves who is just like her last name. She is finicky; wants her tea precisely at the same hour and God help you if it isn’t, and she too relents. They all go to this villa in Italy. Slowly those who are uptight begin to loosen. Those who are precise begin to ease up. There are surprises along the way. It’s Italy. It’s sunshine, it’s all those cappuccinos.


3) How does it fit into the Shaw Mandate?


The book was written in 1922—during the time of Shaw– by Elizabeth von Arnim, a woman who travelled in grand company; her children’s tutors were Hugh Walpole and E.M. Forster. H.G. Wells was one of her lovers.

Matthew Barber adapted the book in about 2000. And the play is set in 1922. The British people are still mired in post-war malaise. And women, certainly exemplified by these four, have their issues with husbands who are too busy to notice them; women going through serious emotional difficulties; and women seeing a way of life passing them by. Their transformation is one of the joys of the story and the production. 


4) Tell us about that production.


It’s directed with style and a beautiful sense of surprise by Jackie Maxwell. It’s not sloppy sentiment. There’s edge to the production, but through resolve and wonderful good nature, the characters come through.

It’s designed by William Schmuck. The London scenes are drab, in dark browns and greys. Lotty Wilton is always talking about the wisteria and sunshine in Italy, so we are primed with anticipation for what that Italian villa looks like. And in a slow curtain up for Act II we get a good look. I’d recommend this production just for that revealing. You look at that set and you think you should have brought sun screen cream.

The acting is terrific with Lotty being played by Moya O’Connell. Usually Ms O’Connell plays arch, sophisticated women with a past, or a dark secret.  Here Lotty is buoyed up with her own bravery, to book the trip and get three other strangers to go in with her—she is that anxious to get out of her drudge rut. It’s a smiling, winning, joyous performance.

As Rose, Tara Rosling is almost ground down with despair over a sad secret Rose harbours.  But she too finds a way to get her happiness and life back; the revelation of her deeper imp is charming.

As Mrs. Graves, Donna Belleville imbues her with a stiff upper lip, back bone and an almost constant look of disdain.  She doesn’t fit in to that easy life at the villa, but eventually learns that you have to loosen up and play the game. When she learns that secret, it’s all go.

As the upper class, cold-hearted Caroline Bramble, Marla McLean is also playing a brittle, care-less woman who too gets her zest for life back.

Special mention must be made of Sharry Flett as Costanza. Costanza is the house keeper for the villa. She cooks, scurry’s everywhere, and takes care of the place and really has her knives out for Mrs. Graves and Mrs. Graves is none too pleased with Costanza either. Flett does it all with style, wit and does it totally in Italian and you know exactly what she means even if you don’t know your ‘pronto’ from your ‘prego’.

It’s a wonderful performance, and a wonderful production too. It makes me want to read the book and rent the film.


5) And now for Strolling Player. What is it about?


It’s a biographical play written by Richard Sheridan Willis and Heidi Reimer. It’s about Willis’s long career as an actor, his stories, adventures and finally settling down, in Toronto of all places.

Mr. Willis was born in Stratford-upon-Avon on purpose. His parents were actors so what better place to give birth than Shakespeare’s home town.

Willis trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, England. He’s played all over England including the West End where I think I saw him at the Haymarket Theatre; performed Shakespeare in Washington D.C, Virginia and across the country; and even played the White House during George W. Bush’s days.

There are stories of his marriage breaking up just as he was in a starry West End production and the press started hounding him for a statement, usually by calling him in his dressing room just before a performance. There is the story of playing to President George W. Bush and his wife Laura; the bravery of a young actor just starting out, who will learn better when he’s older. There are relationships that come and go and one that sticks.


6) How is it presented since it is a one person play?


It’s at the Red Sandcastle Theatre on Queen East. I love this store-front theatre. Seats are in tight rows on risers. Your can see the stage clearly. As for the play, there’s a simple bench, a chair, the floor that looks like a kind of beach and the sound of waves flapping against the shore.

Richard Sheridan Willis enters wearing a casual off white shirt and jacket, white pants rolled up to the mid calf,  with a huge hole in the knee the size of his kneecap. He’s barefoot, perhaps all symbolic of the itinerant life of an actor.

 He intersperses his bits of autobiography by quoting considerably from Shakespeare: Henry V, As You Like It, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing. The references move the story along and show a wonderful perception.

Mr. Willis can size up a relationship and know that to continue is dangerous because it’s not the right time. But he’s aware of the wonderful feeling he’s experiencing being in a certain young woman’s company.

Willis is perceptive, sensitive, has a lovely grasp of Shakespeare, and has a sweet charm.

 It’s directed with efficiency by Robert Richmond. There is a good use of music, and perhaps too many lighting cues, but on the whole, it’s a moving story of a man devoted to theatre, who also discovers another love along the way.


Thanks Lynn. That was Lynn Slotkin, our critic and Passionate Playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

Enchanted April continues at the Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, until October 26

Strolling Player continues at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922   Queen Street East near Logan.

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