Los Angeles Theater Preview: LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN (Chalk Repertory Theatre)

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by Tony Frankel on July 24, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

L.A.’S BIGGEST FAN

It surprises me that Lady Windermere’s Fan isn’t produced as frequently as the ubiquitous The Importance of Being Earnest. Beginning Friday, Chalk Rep is remounting last year’s sold-out, site-specific production, and I highly recommend you give it a visit.

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

The titular character in Oscar Wilde’s play is a vivacious young woman, married only two years, who never coughs or displays any other signs of illness. At one point in the play, she refuses to shake hands with a visitor. “My hands are all wet with the roses,” she tells her guest. While her avoidance of shaking hands might be interpreted as fastidiousness, there are other reasons why she would not offer her hand to her would-be suitor Lord Darlington: perhaps she wishes to discourage his flirtatious advances, or maybe it is because she has actually been arranging roses.

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

Still, this was the Victorian era, an age when women wouldn’t do anything they thought vulgar, such as spitting or coughing. Over the years, Wilde’s character would become a symbol of the Victorian era—so much so that in 1992, two radiologists published a report of “The Lady Windermere Syndrome,” in which they concluded that mycobacterial infection had occurred in six overly fastidious women due to voluntary suppression of cough. It’s not that these women could not cough; they simply would not allow themselves to vigorously cough—a necessity for clearing secretions that would ultimately become infected.

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

While the authors of this study declared that the name of the disease is a “literary malapropism,” the medical world has adopted the term, which speaks more to Wilde’s play than the disease itself. Lady Windermere’s Fan acerbically lampoons the morals of Victorian society, most notably marriage and the constraints placed upon women by society. Women had to be well-behaved at the time, and this amazing play, which has a short run only through August 3, has an intriguing subtitle: A Play About a Good Woman.

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

This was one of Wilde’s earlier plays (1892), a drama with farcical undertones, distinct from the more broadly farcical Ernest that would emerge a few years later. The entirety of this sophisticated work takes place over a single day, which happens to be the protagonist’s 21st birthday. “I’m of age today,” she tells Lord Darlington, and we see her over this 24-hour period go through 24 years of experience. Among other things, she comes to question what a “good woman” actually is in this fascinating script that combines mystery, comedy, and a measure of malignity.

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

In the play, a naïve, young woman (and self-professed puritan) is shocked to discover evidence of her older husband’s apparent infidelity. When he not only refuses to confess but insists that she invite the mystery woman to her upcoming society debut, Lady Windermere quickly learns the power of faithfulness and forgiveness in the modern world.

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

Lady Windermere’s Fan has many notable quotations—“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars,” “I can resist everything except temptation,” “Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality”—but in the context of “The Lady Windermere Syndrome,” the most appropriate may be: “There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely—or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.”

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

Moving audience members to a different space for each act at UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, director Jennifer Chang will make full use of the library grounds by taking patrons on a theatrical tour of the breathtaking lawns and courtyards. The viewers will attend Lady Windermere’s coming-of-age party and intimately follow her careful navigation of waves of gossip, as she artfully unravels an intricate web of lies. (The library has a collection of Oscar Wilde material that has been called the world’s best and includes a typed copy of Lady Windermere’s Fan with Wilde’s handwritten notes from 1892.)

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.Director Chang writes, “While this is a play about social rank, in our modern-era telling we hold our eyes open towards race, which still heartbreakingly weighs in on status in the society we live in today.” The returning multicultural company includes Amielynn Abellera in the title role; Terri Reeves as the Duchess of Berwick; Peter Wylie as her brother, Lord Augustus; and Allie Jennings as her daughter, Lady Agatha. Tess Lina plays the mysterious Mrs. Erlynne, and Brian Slaten plays Lady Windermere’s confidant and not-so-secret admirer, Lord Darlington. Also in the ensemble are Amin El Gamal as Mr. Dumby, Feodor Chin as Cecil Graham, Amalia Fite as Lady Plymdale and Rosalie, Scott Keiji Takeda as Hopper, and George Wyhinny as Parker. Joining the cast this year as Lord Windermere is Jacques C. Smith, best known for his role in Broadway’s Rent.

A scene from LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN - Chalk Repertory Theatre at UCLA's William Andrews Clark Memorial Library in Los Angeles.

photos courtesy of Chalk Rep

Lady Windermere’s Fan
Chalk Repertory Theatre
UCLA’s William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron St. (at Adams near Arlington)
July 25 at 6 pm (pay-what-you-can preview)
July 26 and 27, and August 2 and 3 at 6 pm
gates open at 5 pm for picnicking before the show
for tickets ($25) visit www.ChalkRep.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Beverly Walker August 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm

I saw the show last night. It was great. If possible, please keep me informed of future Chalk Rep shows.

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