The Enchantment – A Belle Epoch Melodrama

Louise (Fiona Mongillo), a repressed Swede, is staying at the currently empty Paris studio of her artist brother, having been advised by a doctor to travel after a bout of Typhus. It’s her first visit to the city and, one infers, first exposure to the sophisticated freewheeling behavior prevalent in the arts community. Intimates include expatriates Erna, a painter (Jane May), her sister Lilly (Claire Curtis-Ward), Erna’s ill-used lover Henrik (Nicholas Koy Santillo), and Lilly’s swain, Louise’s attentive step-brother, Viggo (Paul Herbig).

Matthew DeCapua and Fiona Mongillo

Viggo runs into infamous sculptor Alland (Matthew DeCapua) at a café. Discovering he’s acquainted with Louise’s brother, he invites the artist to her apartment hoping to cheer up the recovering invalid. In under three minutes, eschewing small talk, Alland has the inexperienced Louise admitting she’s never really lived. If she doesn’t work, she must certainly marry, he offhandedly declares. “Not many women allow themselves to love.” One might just as well wave a red flag in front of a bull.

Here we find yet another woman convinced she’s the one who can tame a thrilling womanizer. Erna, who’s had devastating personal experience with Alland  (remaining wounded and jealous) tries unsuccessfully to warn her friend off. Even when the man himself unabashedly states love doesn’t last and that he’ll invariably move on, when he sadistically rubs admiration of a model in Louise’s face, when he proves himself irresponsible and demanding, she wastes away and clings. Unfortunately, Matthew DeCapa’s lack of lascivious charisma makes this unbelievable. He looks without appetite, touches without sensuality and never lets us glimpse intention.

Claire Curtis-Ward, Jane May, Fiona Mongillo

Louise flees but finds her northern home no longer tolerable. She now calls Allard “The Toad King” acknowledging enchantment. Returning to Paris, however, our heroine apparently morphs into the strong, open handed, unquestioning woman her lover desires. A potently described piece of his art in which she sees herself tips illusive balance. You can probably guess the rest.

A play with dated sensibilities must be extremely well acted to accurately emulate earlier mind set. Alas, this one is not. Most of the company simply move through it neither thinking nor listening, robbing the piece of internal life. Though a few players have moments, only Paul Herbig’s completely natural Viggo and Fiona Mongillo’s desperate Louise deserve call-outs.

Claire Curtis-Ward and Paul Herbig

Audience on three sides behooves a director not to stage lengthy speeches with characters’ backs turned. Lucy Jane Atkinson is apparently unaware of this. As Set Designer Mary Hamrick supplies no props, the company finds itself without stage business to hold attention, add realism, or illuminate the unspoken. Atkinson’s acceptance of this is detrimental to the production. Every time someone rushes in to Louise’s studio, he or she overshoots those in the room by several feet. This makes no sense…

Live string music (no credit on the program) is immensely evocative. Adrienne Carlile’s Costume Design successfully depicts the period on a limited budget.

The play’s translation by Tommy Lexen has two issues. First is the frequent use of third person – with Louise not six feet away, she is referred to as she, her, or Louise as if not present. This may have been in original text but disconcerts entirely too much to remain. Second is the employment of jarring, contemporary phrases like “sweetie,” “it’s not happening,” and “I’m up for that.”

Also featuring Michael J. Connolly and Ariana Karp

“Victoria Benedictsson (1850 – 1888), groundbreaking Swedish novelist and playwright who wrote under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren, was the real life inspiration for both Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler and Strindberg’s Miss Julie. Stuck in an unhappy marriage, she had a scandalous affair with a high-profile Danish critic, which led to her suicide soon after completing this play.”

Photos by Katrin Talbot
Opening: Matthew DeCapua and Fiona Mongillo

Ducdame Ensemble presets
The Enchantment by Victoria Benedictsson
Adapted/Translated by Tommy Lexen
Directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson
Through July 22, 2017
Venue Calendar: HERE
145 Sixth Avenue

About Alix Cohen (1162 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of nine New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.