Ask Philippa: LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN Edition

Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere) and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Emily Kitchens (Lady Windermere) and Aldo Billingslea (Lord Windermere) in Cal Shakes’ production of Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, directed by Christopher Liam Moore; photo by Kevin Berne.

Philippa Kelly, resident dramaturg for Cal Shakes, shares her thoughts on the current production, and invites your questions. Lady Windermere’s Fan runs August 14–September 8, 2013.

Lady Windermere’s Fan has an intriguing subtitle: A Play About a Good Woman. Written in 1892, this was one of Wilde’s earlier plays, a “drama” with farcical undertones, as distinct from the more broadly farcical The Importance of Being Ernest that would emerge a few years later. The entirety of Lady Windermere’s Fan 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 what Jonathan Moscone described at our Inside Scoop as “24 YEARS of experience.” Among other things, she comes to question what a “good woman” actually is in this fascinating drama that combines mystery, comedy, and a measure of malignity.

Are you going to see our production of Lady Windermere’s Fan?  Do you have questions or comments about the production’s cast, themes, creative choices, or anything else? Please leave them in the comments, and I’ll be sure to respond.

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10 Responses to Ask Philippa: LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN Edition

  1. Pete Volin says:

    Dear Philippa,
    I very much enjoyed your talk and the production of Lady Windemere’s Fan. You kindly offered to send me the actor’s packet for this show. I’d be intrigued to read it.

    Thanks for all of the good work you are doing.

    Pete Volin

  2. philippa kelly says:

    Hello Pete,

    I’m delighted to send you the packet – will get your email address and send it now

  3. Ms. Kelly:
    I read your article in the program last night when I saw Lady Windemere’s Fan. I have two questions.
    First, it’s not clear what point were you trying to make with your casual dismissal of the Bible as “myths” in the article “Good Women & Big Lies…” on p. 12. Granted, some parts of the Bible are based on Jewish and Christian traditions; however, other events are historically documented. Your mischaracterization of the Bible unnecessarily disparages both Judaism and Christianity.
    Second, was the statement “…just as we cannot know Satan without knowing from where he slipped, so, too, we cannot know Saint Paul without knowing the fallen character he once was and still could be.”
    I’m curious to know the origin of this comparison and how it relates to the plot. It seems inaccurate and out of context. Perhaps your article was edited incorrectly?

  4. philippa kelly says:

    Hello Catherine,
    Sorry this is a little late in being answered – I was taking my son back to college yesterday and had no internet access. Usually I like to reply much more promptly.

    There are two generaal definitions of myth:
    1. ‘a traditional story, esp. one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events.’
    2. ‘a widely held but false belief or idea.’
    I use the word in terms of the first definition. The bible uses the physical world as a means of enabling the psyche to transcend the material world

    In regard to Paul, I was referring to his conversion.

    This may be all you want in terms of religion – but if you want to know more about my own views or experience, i’m happy to write again. Let me know

  5. philippa kelly says:

    ps Catherine, in regard to St. Paul and a connection to Lady Windermere’s Fan, I was referring to the idea of knowing one’s goodness by also acknowledging the darker part of one’s self – like St Paul in his conversion. I can’t help thinking too of Milton’s Paradise Lost – do you know it? The scene where the serpent sees Eve? Her beauty somehow detaches him from his own evil, so that he can, for a moment, return to his pre-knowledge/pre-fallen self:
    That space the Evil one abstracted stood
    From his own evil, and for the time remaind
    Stupidly good, of enmitie disarm’d…
    (Milton starts of PL with the intent: ‘To justify the ways of God to man’ – but the irony is that in this long poem he ‘justifies the ways of man to man’!!)

  6. philippa kelly says:

    Evelyn, the biography of Wilde written by his son Vivyan is available on Amazon:

  7. Chris Tucher says:

    Are we to assume that in that Victorian era, the “affairs” Wilde describes – like those of Mrs. Erlynne – were actually sexual, or merely flirtatious? Was the flirting and the frequent/inappropriate visits enough to cause scandal? I felt that a director could choose just how sexual to suggest these affairs really were – and this CalShakes production gave me the sense they were all merely flirtatious – and, by today’s standards, trivial.
    The director could obviously have “sexed it up” and made clear what the characters actually thought – as you do with lots of Shakespeare – but chose not to. What’s your view?

  8. philippa kelly says:

    I think many of the affairs in Victorian England were ‘tidily’ sexual – perhaps not boots and spurs, but certainly sexual.

    The choice for a director is: ‘What does it gain a production to be explicit?’ I think Chris chose to leave this up to the imagination because then each audience member would implant their own idea of what ‘transgression’ meant – rather than impose a notion.

    • Chris Tucher says:

      Thanks! I don’t disagree … but I think the CalShakes characterizations strike a contemporary audience as so prissy, pompous, effete as to be asexual. And without the bawdy gestures we often see inserted into Shakespeare stagings (and maybe 17th-century stagings were no less bawdy?), the implication in Windermere seemed to be that VIctorian affairs were all talk, no action. But I’m sure you’re right! ;>)

  9. philippa kelly says:

    Hello Chris,
    This was late 19th century, when moral facades were very ‘correct’. So the appearance of propriety had to be perfectly decorous, no matter what one did behind closed doors

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