If you are in the market for a delightful evening of Wildean wit and wisdom, you will do no better than seeing Irish Classical Theatre Company’s current production of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. This subversive drawing room comedy, first performed in 1892, is timeless in its skewering of rigid moral codes and adherence to uncompromising societal rules that demand conformity, with banishment and ruin as punishment for those who dare to defy them. Irish Classical Theatre Company is always in top form in its productions of Wilde plays, and this one is no exception.
The young, innocent, beautiful Lady Windermere (Arianne Davidow) has received a fan for her birthday from her older husband (Matt Witten), who unfortunately refers to her as “child” several times. She lives by a very strict moral code, declaring herself unforgiving of human frailty, i.e., affairs outside of marriage. Nonetheless, she is pursued by the dashing Lord Darlington (Ben Michael Moran), who cannot help but love her, as rich idle young men have earnestly proclaimed throughout the ages. She is told by the Duchess of Berwick (Colleen Gaughan) that Lord Windermere has been seen many times in the company of an unknown-to-society woman, Mrs. Erlynne (Kate LoConti), and scandal must ensue unless Lady W. spirits Lord W. away for a time. Thus begins the dark night of the soul for the lovely Lady W. and an opportunity for Mr. Wilde to regale us with his seditious wit.
Kate LoConti steals the show as Mrs. Erlynne, although she is given a run for her money in smaller roles by Christian Brandjes as the dim-witted Lord Augustus Lorton with jowls that speak for themselves, and Chris Kelly as the mischievous Mr. Cecil Graham, who delivers some of Mr. Wilde’s juicier lines with a farcical, public school boy persona. Then there’s the dancing David Lundy as the butler, Parker, and Colleen Gaughan as the gossipy, witless Duchess of Berwick…
But, back to Ms. LoConti. Her line delivery is impeccable, and her emotions are palpable, yet understated, as she feels an unexpected deep love and must adjust her plans. She carries herself with grace throughout, and is stunning in her entrance, flaunting Victorian norms in a sparkling red dress that is just this side of being too revealing as she flirts her way around the room, mocking society while at the same time seducing almost every man present. Beautiful!
Ms. Davidow and Mr. Witten do well in their roles as the humorless couple. He is harried and worried throughout, running around trying to put out fires. She is so rigid and inflexible she is almost unappealing, belying her lovely demeanor, seeming like she might shatter into pieces at any moment, and then becoming more three-dimensional as her world changes.
The excellent cast is rounded out by Jon May, Emily Collins, Jaimee Harmon, Marilyn Mendelson, and Jamie O’Neill.
Directed by Josephine Hogan, at just under two hours, the production is lively without feeling rushed, and very well cast. She uses the theater in the round expertly, moving her actors around organically, rather than in a stilted someone-must-be-facing-the-audience-on-that-side mode, which happens all too often in lesser hands. The beautiful Victorian costumes are by Lise Harty, Set Design by Paul Bostaph, Lighting by Brian Cavanagh, Sound by Tom Makar, Hair and Make-up by Susan Drozd. All are experts, and their work here a fine example of their many talents.
The themes of rigid definitions of good and bad and polite society’s demands that all conform to its rules leave a sour taste, as the only way for the Windermeres to survive as a couple is to keep their secrets hidden, not just from society, but also from each other. Lady Windermere's Fan has an underlying seriousness, but do not let that keep you from enjoying every delicious minute of it.