Reviewed by Judy Richter
After hearing some gossip, an upperclass Englishwoman thinks her husband is having an affair in Oscar Wilde's "Lady Windermere's Fan." However, appearances aren't always what they seem in California Shakespeare Theater's elegant production of this witty satire on Victorian morality.
Lady Windermere (Emily Kitchens) is about to celebrate her 21st birthday and receives a lovely fan as a gift from her husband, Lord Windermere (Aldo Billingslea). They've been happily married for two years and have a 6-month-old son. Her happiness is marred when an afternoon visitor, the Duchess of Berwick (Danny Scheie), tells her that Lord Windermere has been visiting a fallen woman, Mrs. Erlynne (Stacy Ross), and giving her large sums of money.
Confirming the outlays by ripping open his locked checkbook, Lady Windermere confronts her husband. He says that nothing improper has happened and asks to her invite Mrs. Erlynne to her birthday party that night.
When she refuses, he writes the invitation himself, resulting in even more unhappiness for his wife both then and at the party. Afterward the fan plays a large role in the conclusion, but secrets remain unrevealed, allowing illusions to continue.
Wilde subtitled his work "A Play About a Good Woman." One would assume that the good woman is Lady Windermere, but she could also be Mrs. Erlynne, who does some great kindnesses for the unknowing Lady Windermere.
This polished Cal Shakes production is artfully directed by Christopher Liam Moore from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It features an elegant set by Annie Smart with complementary lighting by York Kennedy and sound by Will McCandless. The period costumes by Meg Neville reflect the rigidity of Victorian society with the women constrained by bustles and corsets under their beautiful dresses.
The cast is excellent, led by Kitchens as an increasingly upset Lady Windermere and Billingslea as her husband. One telling aspect of their relationship becomes especially clear in the final scenes when he often refers to his wife as "my child," as if he doesn't see her as an equal partner in their marriage even though he loves her.
The first act is highlighted by the irrepressible Scheie as the Duchess of Berwick. Flouncing about with the duchess's socially inept daughter (Rami Margron) in tow, Scheie is absolutely hilarious. Ross skillfully portrays the conflicting emotions of Mrs. Erlynne.
Sharp characterizations come from the rest of the cast: L. Peter Callender, James Carpenter, Dan Clegg, Nick Gabriel, Tyee Tilghman and Bruce Carlton.
All of these elements add up to an enjoyable, thought-provoking theatrical experience.