In an MTV world, the genius of past eras is still compelling, especially when it mirrors contemporary concerns as in the case of Oscar Wilde. A playwright who, when going through U.S. customs in 1882, said, "I have nothing to declare but my genius!" Wilde's ego may have died with him, but his wit, drama and characters are alive and well in playhouses today.
Lady Windermere's Fan, Wilde's first great success, is currently being performed by the Star Bar Players at the Lon Chaney Theatre downtown by a very talented and enthusiastic cast.
Lady Windermere's Fan is, as Wilde put it, a play about a good woman. A more appropriate subtitle might be: a play about a good woman gone bad, but it takes a true heart to realize she's a rare gem underneath. Thus, one of the major underlying themes of the script -- no one is ever all good or all bad. And it's hard to decipher the difference when dealing with the charmingly feisty Mrs. Erlynne, the central character of the play.
Mrs. Erlynne's reputation is built, destroyed, run through the gutter and back before we even get to meet her in the second act. The women despise her (can you say, jealousy?). The men have all called on her (whatever that means!). And there remains an air of mystery and tragedy about her past that we've yet to learn.
Indeed, just all the talk about Mrs. Erlynne in Act One is a tough act to follow for any actress playing the part. But Amy Brooks transcends the complications deftly in a stunning performance. As the complex Mrs. Erlynne, she pours on lavish compliments with a sarcastic sting. She melts the edges off the most rigid of Victorian elites with effortless grace. And after all her mask wearing is complete, she reveals the true depths of her soul and altruistic compassion when she saves Lady Windermere from making the same traumatic mistake she made 20 years prior.
As a young woman coming of age, and slowly coming into knowledge, Lady Windermere (Polly Cambron) must steer her way among the many manipulations of friends and family. One of her most difficult decisions is taking a stand against the rigid morality of her husband, Lord Windermere (Mark Hennessy).
Polly Cambron's Lady Windermere is the perfect incarnation of innocence and naivete. With a swan-like elegance, she glides through the role, unfortunately not always giving it as much volume or dramatic tension as necessary.
Mark Hennessy plays Lord Windermere as a pillar of Victorian nobility, a man never faltering in his beliefs, regardless of the strong tides of social rumor. Hennessy lends the role an intriguing presence -- even when just smoking a cigar, the actor is "on" -- the wheels of his mind visibly turning as he evaluates the humorous musings of the other men.
And what humorous men they all are! The remaining ensemble cast provide engaging comedic chemistry to counterbalance all the social melodrama. Most noteworthy is Stephen Edwards as Mr. Cecil Graham, a tall, lanky figure infused with a quirky, mischievious nature. Thoroughly enjoying his role as one of the single, unattached men, he pulls mockingly at the strings of the love-anchored others.
Wilde's genius thrives in the Star Bar Players' production of Lady Windermere's Fan, proving that quality art transcends the test of time, shedding light on the eternal foibles of humanity.
-- Brooke Robb