A couple hoping to rekindle their stale marriage is inexplicably drawn to a California ski resort in the off-season where a door opens of its own accord beckoning them into a magical portal of self-discovery for the characters and audience members alike in the comedy “Annabella in July,” receiving its world premiere at North Coast Rep.
Vanessa (Jacquelyn Ritz) timidly enters the resort’s empty dining room as her nerdy camera-wielding husband Brian (Louis Lotorto) chases down a butterfly photo op in the great outdoors. From the kitchen emerges Camelina (Leilani Smith) who is positively gleeful the moment she lays eyes on Vanessa yet insists on calling her Annabella. Vanessa’s polite you’ve-mistaken-me-for-someone-else response stuns Camelina, who repeatedly insists they know each other. The same reactions occur when teenage waitress Piper (Catalina Zelles) and a dapper Frenchman named Alexander (scene-stealing Bruce Turk) wander in.
The trio tries to cajole Vanessa into calling off the silly joke she’s playing on them by reminding her of the excitement Annabella brings into their otherwise dull existence during her annual winter visits citing her daredevil skiing, her seductive charm and her compassionate nurturing of young Piper. Vanessa’s head-shaking protests that she’s a librarian from Nebraska are summarily dismissed.
After wrestling with the suddenly locked door, Brian enters and finds himself occupied with keeping Vanessa out of the amorous clutches of Alexander. At the same time, Brian finds himself falling in love the more he learns about Annabella. Is this mystery woman flesh and blood, a muse or some other fanciful imagining? What is clear is that everyone in the room has a desperate need to know, possess or become Annabella. “I wish I could see myself as others see me” says Vanessa, who starts to relish the adoration meant for her doppelgänger. Exchanging her shapeless summer dress for a figure-hugging ski suit Annabella left behind in January, frumpy Vanessa is transformed into a Bond Girl.
The rock-solid cast adroitly pulls off the fast-paced, split-second comedic timing called for in the script with Jacquelyn Ritz a marvel in conveying the dual personas of Vanessa/Annabella.
This witty, laugh-packed story concludes by taking the five characters (six if you count the mischievous door) on a transformative, transcendental journey in which it snows in summer, people ski uphill, a pair of hang gliders occupy an area too small for them and the sun sets and rises on the same spot on the horizon. Go with it, and the next time a door unexpectedly opens don’t hesitate to walk through.