Northside Theatre Company and Enchanted April suit one another perfectly. The small-cast English parlor drama fits beautifully into the little black-box theater, which hosted an enthusiastic sell-out crowd on its first Saturday performance. Adapted by Matthew Barber from the eponymous novel, Enchanted April tells the story of four very different women who begin as strangers and end as close friends.

The first act delves into the life of Lottie Wilton, an English housewife whose marriage has become as drizzly and gray as the weather outside her window. In an act of rebellious desperation, Lottie befriends “disappointed Madonna” Rose Arnott. They answer a newspaper ad and rent an Italian castle filled with wisteria and sunshine. The women then place their own ad for companions to share the castle’s rent, which will not include their befuddled and angry husbands. In the second act, the comedy of manners turns into “Sex and the Italian Countryside.” Men show up at awkward moments, romances bloom and fade, and the ladies bond over shared losses and new joys.

This lightly plotted but surprisingly deep-themed show captures the audience’s attention from the opening monologue. Though Enchanted April is set in 1922, when England was still reeling from the devastation of World War I, the feelings of loss and grief—of beginnings and endings and longing for something brighter—ring true in 2011 America. 

Rebecca Wallace shines as hyperactively enthusiastic and domestically depressed Lottie, and Lorie Goulart glows as straight-laced, stiff-necked Rose Arnott. Goulart took a character that could have been a one-note bore and infused her with life, using her talent with facial expression and body language to bring the audience along on Rose’s journey from grief into joy. Laura Fones and Marie Ballentine have fun in the supporting roles of stylish young Lady Bramble and persnickety old Mrs. Graves. Of the much-maligned men in the show, Tony DiCorti stands out as the obnoxious, social-climbing and essentially good-hearted Mr. Lottie Wilton.

Director Meredith King uses all the space she has available to create a sense of movement in the lives of each character. The sound design by Nick Ferraro adds to the production with subtlety and elegance. The only weakness appears in the set design, which clutters the small stage with cheap modern chairs in the first act and garish plastic flowers in the second. Northside’s Enchanted April wants its audience to laugh a lot, to think a little and to enjoy the company of friends. This show would make a great excuse for a ladies’ night out.

Enchanted April
Thursday-Saturday, 8pm, Sun, 3pm (no show April 24), runs through May 8
Northside Theatre, San Jose