Volunteer Zoe Halsne attended the Inside Scoop for Lady Windermere’s Fan and submitted this review about the event.
On Monday, July 29, I attended my first-ever Cal Shakes Inside Scoop—for Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan—at the Orinda Public Library. In addition to this event, I confess I did not know much about the play itself. However, I quickly became enthused about it after chatting to longtime California Shakespeare Theater-goer, Joan. She told me that, despite the unusually long line for the ice cream, she was looking forward to Lady Windermere’s Fan, especially as a feminist.
Indeed, after the Q&A, it was clear the mere 24 hours of Lady Windermere’s life covered in the play portrays a significant change in a young woman, while simultaneously providing comedic elements. It produces a sense of independence and disillusionment and, despite my disappointing lack of Oscar Wilde exposure in high school, I could relate the description of the themes of the play to other stories like Zora Neale Hurston’s bildungsroman novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Or, as was mentioned during the Q&A, there are even similarities between the struggles of Hamlet and those of Lady Windermere.
It was also interesting just to hear how this particular production was put together. Emily Kitchens, who plays Lady Windermere, actually auditioned for the role over video while she was with her mother in Georgia. She went on to describe her personal process for dissecting the script including determining the distinctions between producing a sense of realism versus a sense of melodrama. Artistic Director Jonathan Moscone also mentioned the additional difficulties with speaking with 19th-century British mannerisms.
One audience member asked why the production wasn’t adapted to another time period, like the theater often does with Shakespeare plays. Moscone said it would be possible to set the play in decades like the 1950s (and he had even seen a 1930s version once) but for several reasons they decided not to—one of which is the love for the costumes. “You can flirt like nobody’s business,” Set Designer Annie Smart said, pointing out the enormous poof the skirt had on the costume’s backside.
Though the production is definitely not set in the 21st or even the 20th century, Smart admitted that the costumes are not entirely designed based on when the play originally takes place, for good reason. The true attire of the play’s age would require a tiny waist of about 17 inches, and actors have an understandable need for access to their diaphragm.
Besides a mannequin sporting one of the female costumes from the production, there was also a model of the stage’s set design on display in the front of the auditorium. Smart described how even something as simple as a living room was difficult to replicate for this specific stage, especially when there was a need for several niches within the set, in order for the characters to be able to share secrets without other onstage characters “hearing” those secrets.
I felt informed and excited after hearing the background of Lady Windermere’s Fan directly from the some of the creative team and cast as well as other theater enthusiasts. It sounds like a fantastic production of a universal story (though with rather fixed societal standards), and I can’t wait to see it! Lady Windermere’s Fan, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, is on stage from August 14 to September 8. The next Inside Scoop is for A Winter’s Tale on September 9.