Chicago Theater Review: LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN (Dead Writers Theatre Collective at Stage 773)

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by Lawrence Bommer on April 23, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

OSCAR PLEADS FOR MERCY

“We are all of us lying in the gutter–but some of us are staring at the stars.” This fusion of original sin and the saving power of grace fuels the artful ambivalences in Lady Windermere’s Fan. A well-made play with an untidy moral, Oscar Wilde’s four-act 1892 comedy traces the fault lines that run through high society–and within its social lions and demurest debutantes. Undermining the respectability of a London hostess, newly married and glowing with ideals, Wilde seems to confess in advance the secret “sins” that would all too soon topple him: A self-sustained scandal would reduce London’s most glamorous aesthete to a hard-laboring convict in Reading Gaol.

Pictured-the cast of Lady Windermere's Fan. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Munificently presented in Jim Schneider’s sumptuous revival, Dead Writers Theatre Collective’s eye-popping period production leaves–in the very best sense–nothing to the imagination. The title character’s drawing room in Carlton House Terrace, meticulously created by Moon Jung Kim, could be an enlarged Thorne Miniature Room from the Art Institute. Along with the second incredibly appointed locale–Lord Darlington’s parlor–it’s a repository of peacock hangings, Louis XVI secretaries, cut-glass bowls with floating red roses, ornate divans, a polished parquet floor, and luxurious tapestries. Completing the burnished perfection are Patti Roeder’s Victorian fashion-plate costumes–tulle, lace, organdy, silk and wool in perpetual vogue.

L-R Megan Delay and Joanna Riopelle in Lady Windermere's Fan. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Pomp and circumstance combine sublimely with a renunciation scene worthy of Wagner. Schneider serves Wilde’s “Play about a Good Woman” with equal elegance and more subtlety. The tantalizing question: Who is the true good woman? From the start he sedulously exposes the seemingly unbridgeable gulf between Megan Delay’s noble-minded Lady Windermere, ardently devoted to Edward Fraim’s upright husband and celebrating her 21st birthday, and Joanna Riopelle’s notorious, older Mrs. Erlynne. The latter is a demi-mondaine “grand horizontal” who has fallen magnificently, breaking many hearts along the way with just a hint of blackmail (say 2500 pounds per year). Further endangering the happiness of the titled darling is the persistent passion of Lord Darlington (Doug Reed), an upper class stalker.

L-R Michael Graham, Travis Barnhart, Rob Cramer and Edward Fraim. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

How can the Mayfair ingénue and the glamorous but scarlet woman (with a ruby necklace to prove it) share anything besides the name of Margaret? Can an ostrich-feathered fan compromise virtue and threaten a marriage? Through all the badinage, persiflage and whiplash wit, Wilde steadily prosecutes a point he’s borrowed from the Bard: Treat everyone as they deserve and there’s none who can escape whipping. By its very nature, argues London’s favorite bad boy, goodness is its worst protector, weakened by its own unchallenged integrity: It takes experience to evade as much as emulate evil.

The cast of Lady Windermere's Fan, end of Act III. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

There’s much merriment before the satisfying outcome to this moral impasse. Wilde has concocted–and Schneider assembled–a tony cross-section of patrician eccentricities, including an Australian parvenu (Shawn Hansen), Wildean epigrammatist (Michael D. Graham), matriarch (Linda Robert) of the Lady Bracknell persuasion, and assorted rogues from the grandest galleries. At the core is the fascinating triangle of Riopelle’s mercurial and mercenary Mrs. E., Delay’s sweet soubrette Lady W, and Fraim’s clueless but never flawless husband, the frailest creature of them all. Irresistibly through June 7, Wilde’s treasure (town)house is open by appointment.

L-R Doug Reed, Elliott Fredland and Megan Delay. Photo by Michael Brosilow.photos by Michael Brosilow

Lady Windermere’s Fan
Dead Writers Theatre Collective
Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave
ends on June 7, 2015
for tickets, call 773.327.5252
or visit www.deadwriters.net

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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