Arts & Culture

A silk-tongued comedy fit for this century

Arts & Culture Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Correction appended.

As far as Brown students are concerned, the polished pomp on stage in “Lady Windermere’s Fan” may provide a sophisticated escape — a tidy leap from East Side basements with their flat Narragansett Light and sticky floors.

The production, directed by Lowry Marshall, professor of theatre arts and performance studies, illuminates the dusty Victorian-era words of Oscar Wilde with surprising levity. “Lady Windermere” serves as the savory finish to a so-called “Wilde semester,” which has included Sock & Buskin’s production of “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.”

Wilde’s story swirls together melodrama with wit and wry humor. Set in Victorian London, it’s a society tale of betrayal and gossip — and terribly lavish parties.

“I think what we wanted to push in this play is that it’s a comedy,” said Madeleine Heil ’13, who plays Mrs. Erlynne.

“Lady Windermere’s” over-arching gesture, which points to the contrived nature of good and evil, runs the risk of sounding tired and trite to a 21st century audience — especially since Wilde makes a point to emphasize by repetition. This production avoids these pitfalls skillfully, repackaging the repeated rhetoric with loud physical performance. “Lady Windermere” is bolstered by the bodies: the hunched and hard-of-hearing Lady Jedburgh (Natalie McDonald ’15), who can be spoken to only by shouting into her ear horn, and the drunken staggering of Lord Augustus (Skylar Fox ’15), a cigar dangling from his lip.

Not to be reduced to the baseness of a physical comedy, the cast delivers a silky-tongued performance — evidence of either much labor or some sort of time machine-based exchange program.  

“Lady Windermere” sounds a high note to end the Wilde semester. Ably acted and backed with ornate scenery, it is sure to rile up a laugh — or at least a party to attend without plastic cups and forced themes.

“Lady Windermere” continues Nov. 10 through Nov. 13 in Stuart Theatre. Show times are Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

***** (five out of five stars)

A previous version of this article misidentified a character in “Lady Windermere’s Fan.” The hard-of-hearing character is Lady Jedburgh played by Natalie McDonald ’15. The same article stated that Christopher Thompson ’15 played the character of Lord Augustus. In fact, Lord Augustus is played by Skylar Fox ’15. The Herald regrets the error.

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