Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan is very different from the better-known The Importance of Being Earnest -- Fan has a heart that doesn't get in the way of the humor. It was an appropriate choice for Woman Seeking..., a company that likes to confound ordinary expectations, but they were smart enough not to play around (much) with Mr. Wilde, and director Dan Jacoby let the play speak for itself. A terrific cast made the most of it all.
There was plenty of flirting going on, and with it the subtle and not-so-subtle power-plays involved. Lady Windermere (Christine Mosère) and Lord Darlington (Trevor Davis) trade Oscar Wilde bon mots (Lord D: "I can resist everything except temptation"), but Lady Windermere is a Puritan and proud of it. She also believes it is wrong for a woman to stray to pay back her own husband's straying. (Well, she believes that now, anyway.) More Wildeness enters with the bossy and imperious Duchess of Berwick (Jane Purcell Dashow), and her daughter Agatha (Kate Place), who has a penchant for anything in pants. Gossip is more important than friendship (Lord Windermere is fooling around with a Mrs. Erlynne!), and circumstantial evidence (checks made out to that woman!) is more conclusive than her husband's denial. But when Lord W invites Mrs. E to the birthday party for his wife, all bets are off until Mrs. Erlynne (Wynne Anders) turns out to be utterly disarming and completely charming. But the un-charmed Lady W turns instead to Lord Darlington, but her advance/retreat modus operandi only turns to resolve when she overhears Mrs. E make reference to a settlement from her husband, and....
There's plenty more plot, but the main pleasure of the production was its presentation. The time frame was moved up to 1930, which made for some splendid costumes (designed by Kate Place) and sets (designed by Trace Peters) that gave a real sense of time and place, and period music (it's always a pleasure to hear Noël Coward and Gertrude Lawrence). And then there's Oscar, and the pleasure of hearing his epigrams, quips, puns, and retorts in their original context, yet delivered as conversation by a cast who took the characters seriously. Mosère's tremulousness made Lady Windermere quite winning, as she had to find her way through an unfamiliar landscape; Davis was more interested in the conquest than the prey; Jordan Auslander's Lord Windermere was truly torn between love for his wife and the demands of Mrs. Erlynne, who turns out to be ... (no plot spoilers here!). There was also a phalanx of players who contributed performances worthy of this production and Wilde -- most particularly Joseph Small's Mr. Dumby, both supercilious and sincere; Michael Janove's Lord Augustus, played in the grand manner of a British character actor; and Dashow's Duchess, who rose above the production's only off-putting costume -- and better yet made one angry at Wilde for limiting her appearance to the first half of the play. But best of all was Anders's Mrs. Erlynne, so smart, warm, human, and funny that it was a pleasure to see her carve out her own happiness from a situation that seems beyond redemption. This is the woman it's a pleasure to meet at a party, shopping at Zabar's, on line at the DMV -- anywhere one needs a dose of reality seasoned with intelligence and wit.
Also with Spring Sarvis, Mark J. Foley, Merrick Dean, Blanche Cholet, George Spelvin, and Laurie Marvald and Christine D'Alonzo-McGovern in the production's nods to gender reversal.
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Copyright 2004 David Mackler