Written by Oscar Wilde Directed by Robert J. Bouffier Lady Windermere..........Linda Amendola Parker..................Mitchell Mullen Lord Darlington...........Gregory Grene Dutchess of Berwick.....Marjorie Burren Lady Agatha.........Charlotte Anne Dore Lord Windermere............Jolyon Reese Mr. Dumby.................Jonathan Duke Lady Plymdale...........Elizabeth Whyte Lady Stutfield............Maura O'Brien Lady Jedburgh...............Marisa Bela Mr. Parker........Robert Carroll Rogers Lord Augustus Lorton.......Erik Parillo Mr. Cecil Graham...........Colin Stokes Mrs. Erlynne..................Marina Re Rosalie.................Elizabeth Whyte Set Design by Robert Kramer Costume Design by Andrew J. Poleszak Lighting Design by Jennifer Simon Stage Manager Ron Rhodes at the LYRIC STAGE through 10 March 140 Clarendon Street. BOSTON 1(617)437-7172
"Lady Windermere's Fan", one of Oscar Wilde's comedies of bad manners, is a hundred and three years old. It is a credit to this Lyric Stage production, then, to say that both the play and the large cast are never upstaged by Andrew J. Poleszak's elaborate, breathtaking period costumes. Nothing sets the style of the play more than the postures and movements dictated by these dinner jackets and sweeping ball-gowns.
I saw the show early, in Sunday's preview performance, when it seemed that Director Robert J. Bouffier, working back-to- front, had not yet dealt with the first half of the play --- the parts which set all the little traps to be very expertly sprung in the meatier acts III and IV. No doubt things improved by Wednesday's opening, but on Sunday the cast started out listening to what each other said in rapt, wide-eyed, face-value acceptance. No one seemed willing either to toss aside a throw-away or thrust a tongue into a cheek. Uttered with sincerity, Wilde's lines edge into self-parody and exaggerated posturing.
But there's none of that in the second half. With the entrance of Marina Re as Mrs. Erlynne --- a disgraced woman whose reputation and perhaps her virtue come with price-tags --- substance and nonsense are clearly defined and all performances take on a depth and conviction that never flags. And if the cast gets a firm grip on the early froth, as they have the later red meat, the Lyric will have a winner.
The lines are drawn in act one with gossip that Lord Windermere(Jolyon Reese), two years married and two months a father, has been visiting Mrs. Erlynne checkbook in hand. His shocked wife (Linda Amendola) swears to strike her across the face with that eponymous fan should she appear at Lady Windermere's birthday ball. It's enough to make any self-respecting wife run to the arms of an eager young lover, isn't it?
During that ball, the three-quarters-round Lyric stage is swelled by ladies in powdered shoulders, frills and flounces --- Marjorie Burren, Charlotte Anne Dore, Elizabeth Whyte, Maura O'Brien, and Marisa Bela --- while later that night the gentlemen --- Gregory Grene, Jonathan Duke, Robert Carroll Rogers, Erik Parillo, and Colin Stokes --- assemble for brandies, whiskey-sodas and cards. The ladies prattle, the gents banter, and satiric sallies cross verbal swords with epigrams at every turn, until Linda Amendola and Marina Re square off, alone on stage, mano-a- mano with the gloves off at last. Act III, with this scene and the men's locker-room bantering, was the pinnacle of Sunday's performance.
It's Gregory Grene as the young lover Lord Darlington who first mentions that fan, and "selflessly" reveals the gossip of Lord Windermere's apparent infidelities. The scene, in fact the entire first act, was flat and shapeless Sunday, and gave the audience no hint of the triumphs to come. Still, that's what previews are for. Perhaps I should come back on closing night, to see what improves.