Slightly updated 'Lady Windermere's Fan' keeps Oscar Wilde at its heart
Director Alan Stanford believes that any great play constantly reinvents itself.
Sometimes it does it on its own as audiences continue to find new truths in new productions of classics, such as “Hamlet” or “King Lear.”
At other times, those reinventions are inspired by the director's vision.
As director of the Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre production of “Lady Windermere's Fan,” Stanford has moved Oscar Wilde's satire from its original Victorian London setting to the post-World War II London of 1947.
It's still set in the upper reaches of British society where trouble begins when the young Lady Windermere discovers that her husband has been seen spending a great deal of time with — and even more money on — a woman with a questionable reputation. When confronted, he not only refuses to discuss his relationship with Mrs. Erlynne, he insists that his wife invite the woman to a ball they are hosting that evening.
This is the third time Stanford has directed “Lady Windermere's Fan.” Each time he has set it in 1947.
“When you look at a play like this in its Victorian setting, it looks a little like a museum piece,” Stanford says. “Wilde was a 20th-century playwright. He died before the 20th century, but he wrote modern plays.”
Stanford deliberately chose 1947, which he calls “a time of great optimism.”
“In 1947, the language of Wilde is still right,” he says. “In 1947, the aristocracy were still as closed a society as they were in 1890. It was a village life, where all the characters know one another.”
By 1948 and '49, Stanford believes, society had begun to move into the less structured world of the 1950s.
Fast-forwarding the action by some 50 years allows the play to retain Wilde's language and wit while making it more accessible to contemporary audiences. The change in eras will be most noticeable in the sets and costumes, he says, not the script.
“I made a few tiny changes to restore the rhythms. Now, it's much more fluid. I would certainly not attempt to modify the words of Oscar Wilde,” Stanford says.
He did change one pair of words to clarify their political meaning: Tories and Radicals are now referred to as liberals and conservatives.
Like Wilde's other plays, “Lady Windermere's Fan” is witty, clever and often funny. The humor may cause some to miss the point that Wilde was a writer of Irish satire, not English comedy.
“He exposes their frailties rather than ridicules them,” Stanford says.
“Lady Windermere's Fan,” he says, “is about the social agenda, about class obsession, about fear. ... We believe honesty and truth are best, but (the play) demonstrates that truth is the most dangerous thing on the planet and should be used with care.”
Leo Marks, who plays Lord Windermere, compares Wilde's play to those of Chekhov. “It's not fluffy. It's meaty, and it's got more moments of grit and conflict and crisis than you imagine,” Marks says.
“It's about what's right and what's wrong. … Nobody is a villain and nobody is a knight in shining armor,” says Nikki Doukas, who plays Mrs. Erlynne. She says it has become one of her favorite roles.
“She is so complicated and the most honest and devious woman you can imagine — she's so strong, so smart,” Doukas says. “Very seldom do you get to play that particular (type of) woman.”
Ultimately, Stanford says, Wilde was writing about the competition between absolute ideals and the real world of ambiguity.
“Life is not black or white, but shades of gray,” Stanford says.
“And you can love people who are impure and complex,” Marks adds.
“Because you are yourself,” Doukas says.
Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- PennDOT team decides what spells trouble on vehicle license plates
- Pirates get journeyman Ishikawa off waivers; outfielder Marte injured
- Alvarez homer triggers winning outburst for Pirates
- Woman shot at Kennywood Park in ‘freak accident’
- McIlroy, world’s No. 1 golfer, injures ankle playing soccer
- Westmoreland County on pace to surpass record for drug-related fatalities
- Outdoors notebook: Hunters prepare to enter elk raffle
- Bookings for August Wilson Center climb, but permanent board yet to be set
- United States takes down Japan, wins third Women’s World Cup
- Ex-teammates say Kessel unfairly criticized
- Film shares tale of Pittsburgh man who turned disability into career