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LA Theater Review

Lady Windermere's Fan

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Like the snake who tempted Eve, the presence of a mysterious middle-aged woman named Mrs. Erlynne disrupts the harmonious marriage of Lady Margaret Windermere and her husband, Lord Arthur Windermere, who are wealthy 20-somethings in late Victorian-era London. Wilde reveals the mystery woman's identity in the closing moments of Act 1, then uses the second act to explore issues of morality in what is essentially a drawing-room drama infused with light, witty banter to sugar-coat the script's core message that all women are good and all men, even those happily married, can't help but stray.

Much of Wilde's dialogue rings of melodrama, but Darlene Hunter-Chaffee's outstanding cast gets the proper rhythms and inflections, whether dramatic or comedic, and Hunter-Chaffee sets a steady, stately pace that allows the laugh lines and dramatic moments to breathe naturally. The principal cast members skillfully knead Wilde's text for tension, mystery, and message. As Margaret, Kate Thomsen believably evolves from innocent, pure-hearted, blissfully happy young wife and mother to deeply wounded, mistrustful of Arthur, and morally outraged over his presumed romantic involvement with Mrs. Erlynne. With his long hair and trim beard and mustache, Travis Wade bears a resemblance to Russell Crowe, projecting Arthur's calm wisdom and good breeding. Yvonne Robertson wisely reveals little about Mrs. Erlynne other than her cattiness toward other women, compatibility with men, and unerring instinct for survival. As the wealthy lord who loves Margaret, Sam Carter shows the gentle sensitivity behind a typically Wildean façade of superficiality. The supporting cast expertly depicts the upper crust of London society circa the 1890s, notably Toni Beckman as a duchess with picture-perfect manners and a love of gossip. Donna Fritsche's sumptuous costumes and Andrew Otero's spare, elegant scene design provide the visuals to set the proper mood and tone.

Presented by and at the Long Beach
Playhouse, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach.
May 8–June 13. Fri.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun.,
2 p.m. (562) 494-1014. www.lbph.com.

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