Preview: Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan At Taproot Theatre

Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde at Taproot Theatre Seattle

As Sigmund Freud might say, “Sometimes a fan is just a fan.” Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist, poet, and critic, Oscar Wilde would disagree. In fact, he wrote an entire play featuring a fan.

Wilde’s huge popularity as a playwright began with his production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, his recherché attitude and lifestyle shines through his writing.

Lady Windermere’s Fan plays at Taproot Theatre May 16-23.  Karen Lund directs Wilde’s 1892 classic comedy about a good woman and her fan.

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde loved to irritate Victorian society with his dress and talking points, and he found a way to critique society on its own terms. His witty, highly satirical comedies of manners contained serious undertones.

Lady Windermere’s Fan is a good example of Wilde’s most successful dramatic technique: the juxtaposition of the comic and the serious. Serious emotions and ideas are explored in a setting which prevents them from ever becoming too serious.

Laura Lee Caudill, Marianne Savell and Maya Burton in "Lady Windermere’s Fan" at Seattle's Taproot Theatre. (Photo by Robert Wade.)

Laura Lee Caudill, Marianne Savell and Maya Burton in “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre. (Photo by Robert Wade)

Appearances can be deceptive–one of the themes of Wilde’s play. At the party of the social season, but instead of celebrating, young Lady Windermere suspects her husband is having an affair with a mysterious and beautiful stranger Mrs. Erlynne, a woman with a past. Lady Windermere flees her own birthday party, determined to take a lover.

Mrs. Erlynne follows Lady Windermere and attempts to persuade her to return to her husband. In the course of this, Mrs. Erlynne is revealed as Lady Windermere’s mother, who abandoned her family twenty years before. As rumors swirl and secrets are revealed, the Windermeres are threatened with disgrace. Mrs. Erlynne sacrifices herself and what is left of her reputation to save her daughter’s marriage.

The best-known line of the play, spoken by Lady Windermere’s most fervent admirer, Lord Darlington, sums up the central theme. “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,”

Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan at Taproot TheatreOther famous Wilde quotes in the play include: “In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it;” “I can resist anything except temptation;” and “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”

Lady Windermere’s Fan was first performed on February 20, 1892 at St James’s Theatre, packed with the cream of society. On the surface a witty comedy, there is subtle subversion underneath. Victorian audiences, like Lady Windermere were challenged to soften rigid social codes in favor of a more nuanced view. The play was enormously popular, touring the country for months, but largely trashed by conservative critics

The 1892 premiere at the St James’s Theatre was followed by a notorious speech given by Wilde. With cigarette in hand, Wilde stroked his own ego. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have enjoyed this evening immensely. The actors have given us a charming rendering of a delightful play, and your appreciation has been most intelligent. I congratulate you on the great success of your performance, which persuades me that you think almost as highly of the play as I do myself.”

Regarded as one of the greatest playwrights of the Victorian Era, Oscar Wilde is remembered for his acclaimed works, as well as his brilliant wit, flamboyant style, and infamous imprisonment for homosexuality. But he also wrote a collection of children’s stories, one in particular, The Selfish Giant, continues to the heart.

Another great stylist, Noël Coward, may have been thinking of Wilde, when he observed that, “Wit needs to be a glorious treat, like caviar, and never spread around like marmalade.”

A British critic put it this way, “Wilde almost scuppers his drama [Lady Windermere’s Fan] by making it so sticky with bons mot that it becomes a series of quotations rather than a play. But when he shows us his heart and his compassion for Mrs. Erlynne, it is like glimpsing a snowdrop peeking through a snowdrift, and is unexpectedly moving.”

Obviously, Oscar Wilde had a penchant for marmalade.

More Information About Lady Windermere’s Fan

Lady Windermere’s Fan runs May 16 – June 23, 2018 at Taproot Theatre Company’s Jewell Mainstage Theatre, Wed/Thur, 7:30 pm, Fri/Sat, 8pm, Sat matinee, 2:00pm. Single tickets are available online at taproottheatre.org, by phone at 206.781.9707 or in person at 204 N 85th St. Tickets range from $27-50, depending on the performance. Taproot offers a $5 senior/student discount off regularly priced tickets (excludes previews or specially priced performances) and $15 tickets for anyone aged 25 and under (excludes specially priced performances). Discounts are available for groups of 8 or more by visiting taproottheatre.org/group-sales/ or by calling 206.781.9708; age recommendation: 12+

Cast (in order of appearance)
Maya Burton – Lady Windermere
Tyler Trerise – Lord Darlington
Rebecca M. Davis – Duchess of Berwick
Laura Lee Caudill – Lady Agatha Carlisle
Frank Lawler – Mr. Dumby
Melanie Hampton – Lady Plymdale/Rosalie
Brad Walker – Mr. Hopper
Kim Morris – Lady Jedburgh
Richard Nguyen Sloniker* – Lord Windermere
Nolan Palmer – Lord Augustus Lorton
Conner Neddersen* – Mr. Cecil Graham
Nikki Visel – Mrs.Erlynne

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association

Production Team
Karen Lund – Director
Marianne Savell – Assistant Director
Mark Lund – Scenic & Sound Design
Jocelyne Fowler – Costume Design
Kent Cubbage – Lighting Design
Michelle Rodriguez – Stage Manager

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About Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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