Oscar through the looking glass

Lady Windermere's Fan

By Oscar Wilde
Directed by Bruce Cohen
Oberon Theatre Co.
The Producers Club
358 West 44th Street (560-2241)
Equity showcase (closes May 22)
Review by Steve Gold

The Oberon Theatre has brought forth a radically revised, contemporary American version of Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan, one that downplays the melodrama while emphasizing the author's peerless wit. It's a viewpoint that's both refreshing and thought-provoking, though Wilde would most likely be appalled by some of the alterations.

Margaret Windermere (Britta Jepsen) has been told by Senator Berwick (Richard Kohn) that her husband Arthur (Andrew Firda) is involved with the infamous Mrs. Erlynne (Susan Izatt). Arthur's vehement denial does nothing to mollify her. Meanwhile, Ms. Darlington (Orlaith de Burca) confesses to Margaret that she's in love with her, leaving Margaret confused: Should she stay with Arthur and maintain what she believes would be a sham marriage? Or should she run off with Ms. Darlington and thereby risk public condemnation?

The central event of the play is a party celebrating Margaret's twenty-first birthday, during which we're introduced to the members of her social orbit. They're a uniformly glib bunch, and they're armed with an endless supply of clever epigrams. Among them is the hypocritical Lady Plymdale (Laura Siner); the aggressively tactless Cecil Graham (Maxwell Zener); the sluttish, nearly silent Agatha Berwick (Celia Montgomery), daughter of Senator Berwick and the object of Mr. Hopper (Rik Sansone)'s shallow affections. We also meet Augustus (Michael Morrows), a fatuous ninny and occasional target of derision by his so-called friends. As the plays unfolds, we learn the true identity of Mrs. Erlynne, which explains Arthur Windermere's interest in her.

In fashioning this production, director Bruce Cohen chose an actress to play the male role of Darlington. The incipient romance outlined by Wilde now has a distinctly lesbian overtone. This results in transforming the play's melodramatic elements -- ordinarily quaint and sentimental -- into something gritty and believable. One can only imagine what Wilde would have thought of this, but it worked fine on stage; Ms. de Burca and Ms. Jepsen established an instant rapport and maintained it throughout their scenes together. Richard Kohn's Big-Daddy Southern Senator, while not subtle, was certainly funny. Andrew Firda did well as Arthur Windemere, the play's most responsible, least flippant character. Laura Siner and Rick Sansone were enjoyable as shallow society types; and Maxwell Zener gave his Cecil Graham an entertaining undercurrent of breezy smugness amid his many epigrams. Michael Morrows was amusingly foolish as Augustus; and as Mrs. Erlynne, Susan Izatt gave notable complexity to the role of a woman who's surface cynicism cannot entirely hide her humanity. Kathryn Savannah was busily efficient as Rosalie, Margaret's maid. Celia Montgomery made a most seductive Agatha, though the part, as written, is that of a glum wallflower -- another reason for Oscar to be less than wild about this production.

Costumes (uncredited) and sets and lighting were adequate. Considerably more than adequate was the charming, unobtrusive background music -- classic pop tunes by Porter, Rodgers et al. -- performed by Rebekkah Ross (vocalist) and Jeff Haley (guitar). (Sets, lights, and sound, Bruce Cohen.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Performance: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Steve Gold