The brilliance of Oscar Wilde is in good hands with Taproot’s delightful production of Lady Windermere’s Fan. Wilde’s subtitle for his script written in 1891 was “A Play About a Good Woman.” Co-director Karen Lund observes in her notes that the play explores such questions as “What is ‘good’? How do ‘good people’ behave? Is it all about following the rules? Whose rules?” The impressive quality about Wilde’s genius is that he is able to handle these weighty topics with such remarkable wit and ease. Imbued with the playwright’s insightful dialogue and clever plotting, this night at the theater rushes by like a cool spring breeze.
Lady Windermere (a sparkling Maya Burton) is preparing for an evening party at her home to celebrate her birthday. Lord Darlington (a dynamic Tyler Trerise) visiting the afternoon of the party insists on offering her flirtatious innuendos. The young Lady thinks she knows what is right and what is wrong; she firmly rebuffs his overtures. It is a real joy to watch Burton develop Windermere’s confidant but shallow and naive young woman into something very different by the play’s resolution. Wilde confines his plot within 24 hours. By the end of the day, Burton’s Lady Windermere is wiser and much more fully human. She enacts one of the most exciting character arches I have seen on stage in quite some time.
It is up to the Duchess of Berwick (a hilarious Rebecca M. Davis) to inform Lady Windermere that the Lady’s husband is involved in an affair with the notorious Mrs. Erlynne (the talented Nikki Visel). Matters worsen when we discover that Lord Windermere (a charming Richard Nguyen Sloniker) insists that the woman should attend Lady Windermere’s party this very evening. If she dare attend the party, Lady Windermere vows to strike Mrs. Erlynee with her new fan she has just received from her husband as a birthday gift. And so Wilde expertly places his characters and that special fan onto the chessboard. What fun to watch the game play out in so many intricate and unexpected ways. No spoilers here; just know that the seemingly simple conflict will unfold itself with the artistic beauty of, well….a gorgeous Victorian fan!
The entire cast seems to be having a great deal of fun with the marvelous witticisms of Wilde, declaring lines like “I can resist anything but temptation” with gusto. The twelve member-acting ensemble is uniformly strong. Dialect coach Ben Wippel has everyone sounding sharp, seemingly stepping fresh off the streets of turn of the century London. A special shout out to Laura Lee Caudill who as Lady Agatha Carlisle hilariously makes so much out of so few lines!
Wilde once modestly described this work as “one of those modern drawing room plays with pink lampshades.” But what a lovely drawing room we have here! Scenic designer Mark Lund builds a beautiful interior set depicting Lord Windermere’s house in the limited space available to him at Taproot’s venue.
In anguish over his unrequited love for Lady Windermere, Lord Darlington declares, “No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” With this play Oscar Wilde offers us up the full spectrum of human behavior, from most hopeful and idealistic to the utterly depraved and everything in between; indeed from the gutter to the stars. The Taproot production delivers Wilde’s multifaceted world with noteworthy skill.
Lady Windermere’s Fan runs through June 23 at the Taproot Theatre Company’s Jewell Mainstage Theatre, at 204 N 85th Street, in the heart of Greenwood. For more ticket information call 206-781-9708 or go to taproottheatre.org.