Walterdale takes on Oscar Wilde

Lady Windermere's Fan GigCity EdmontonWhen asked how went the (1892) premiere of his first major play, Lady Windermere’s Fan, the evening before, playwright, bon vivant and master comic wordsmith Oscar Wilde observed, “Oh, the play was a great success, but the audience was a total failure.”

The play was a success and established him as a major cultural force.

As in many of his plays, Wilde used Lady Windermere’s Fan as a vehicle for his witty epigrams and a biting view of the society of the times where (as he saw it) style meant more than sincerity, passions were meant to be indulged and the real crime was in getting caught. In other words, a society not far removed from our own. The work is a classic example of Wilde’s ability to clothe serious emotions and social comment in a multi-coloured coat of wit. The play runs until Dec. 17 at the Walterdale Theatre.

The four-act, two-hour play is much too convoluted to go into great detail, but some idea of the plot is necessary. The virtuous Lady Windermere (Miranda Broumas) suspects that her husband, Lord Windermere (Patrick Maloney) is having an affair. He denies it and, indeed, invites the “other” woman Mrs. Erlynne (Marsha Amanova) to his wife’s birthday ball. Outraged, Lady Windermere decides to take a lover of her own. What follows is a roundelay of relationships and compromising situations as liaisons form and fall apart and melodramatic revelations about the various characters are revealed.

This is one of those stories where a simple explanation at the beginning would reveal all – but then there would be no play. It’s all wicked fun, of course, driven by Wilde’s seemingly inexhaustible supply of witty, barbed comments – many of which are often quoted outside the play itself. Such as, “I can resist anything but temptation.” Or, “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.” One of his most famous lines is spoken by the dandy Lord Darlington (Dan Fessenden), “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.”

This Walterdale production has a few problems, but not enough to keep it from being an entertaining evening. Broumas is a lovely and vulnerable Lady Windermere. She begins the evening more snooty than decorously aloof, and always remains something of a ninny, but warms considerably as the evening goes on. As the Victorian dreadnaught and gossip queen, the Duchess of Berwick, Leslie Caffaro is a force to be reckoned with. The play swirls around Amanova’s Mrs. Erlynne as she dominates each scene and, in the long run, the play itself. Maloney’s Lord Windermere is both solid and stolid as he battles a role in which Wilde has him as something of an unforgiving prig but he melts impressively.

Director Martin Stout does a commendable job in keeping his large company (16) light on their feet although he is more successful at motivating his strong leads than the supporting players.

The real star of the night may be costume designer Geri Dittrich, whose voluptuous dresses are consistently striking – particularly when Mrs. Erlynne makes her grand entrance standing out in a red dress amidst a sea of pastel. Leland Stelck designs an ingenious set that changes instantly and looks grandly Victorian (without breaking the modest Walterdale budget).