Saturday, July 31, 2004

Lady Windermere's Fan

Ghost Light Theatre Festival has opened at the Veterans Memorial Theater with its first of four mainstage productions, Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” directed by Emily Henderson.

This is a play which centers on the strict morals of Victorian England, when courtesy and manners were valued above personal conflicts. One did not air one’s dirty laundry in public. Into this world comes a situation rife with delicious innuendo and the whole town is talking about it.

Lady Windermere (Alicia Hunt) is about to celebrate her birthday and has received an ornate fan as a gift from her husband . She is visited by the gossipy Duchess of Berwick (Betsy Raymond) and her daughter Lady Agatha (Madelyn Ligtenberg) and told that her husband has been seen calling on a woman of bad reputation, a Mrs Erlynne. The Duchess intimates that Lord Windermere has been giving this woman large sums of money.

Lady Windermere finds her husband’s secret bank book showing substantial payments to Mrs. Erlynne and concludes that the rumor is true and that her husband has been unfaithful. What's more, Lord Windermere (Anthony Pinto) asks her to invite Mrs Erlynne to her birthday gathering. She refuses but her husband sends the invitation anyway and Mrs Erlynne (Maddy Ryen) comes to the party. There is a near confrontation between the two women.

Lady Windermere decides she can no longer live with her husband, and runs away to join an admirer, Lord Darlington (Blake Campbell-Hyde), leaving behind a good bye letter for her husband. The letter is intercepted by Mrs Erlynne, who pursues her and persuades her to return home without Windermere finding out. Unfortunately, Lady Windermere leaves her new fan behind.

Later the men gather at Darlington's place and the fan is found but Mrs Erlynne appears and says that it was she who left the fan, thereby ruining her own reputation by being in a gentleman’s apartment and also ruins her chances of marrying Lord Augustus Lorton (Davis Wurzler). The motive for this act of self sacrifice is revealed to the audience, but not to Lady Windermere, who never does learn that Mrs. Erlynne is the mother she thought died when she was a child.

The cast give generally fine performances, with one or two rising above the level of competent. Maddy Ryen as Mrs. Erlynne does an excellent job. We aren’t sure if she’s a sympathetic character or a blackmailing shrew, but in the end she discovers that she has a heart and has feelings for the daughter she abandoned long ago.

In the minor role of Mr. Cecil Graham, Nick Bettencourt gets the most out of the wit of Oscar Wilde. Wilde was the master of the bon mot and this play is rife with them. (“I can resist anything but temptation,” “It is absurd to divide people into the good and the bad. People are either charming or tedious,” “History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality,” “Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes,” etc.) Unfortunately, many of them fall flat, but Bettencourt’s delivery is the most effective.

The scene is one of the strongest in the play, a group of men sitting around smoking, drinking, and discussing life.

Betsy Raymond, in her small role as the Duchess of Berwick is appropriately bitchy, as she revels in her opportunity to be the bearer of bad news to poor Lady Windermere. Madelyn Ligtenberg as her daughter gets the most out of a role where all one has to do is say “yes, Ma-ma.”

Costume design by Randi Famula is outstanding in the gowns for the women, though there were some problems with fit on the men’s costumes, probably because they were evening clothes pulled off the rack. Someone should make certain, however, that the actors wear the appropriate socks. Green socks and white socks do not go well with the evening attire, and when the men sit down and stretch their legs out, the socks are impossible to overlook.

This is a good production, not a great production. Director Henderson has done a good job of moving her cast around the stage and her vision of the play and the era is good. The main problem with it may be that Oscar Wilde needs an older, more seasoned cast to wring all the subtleties out of the script.

Lady Windermere’s Fan continues August 1, 4, and 6 at 8 p.m., and August 2 – the program says 11 p.m., but surely it must mean a.m.

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