Tribune-Review: Wilde’s ‘Lady’ has a lot to say no matter the setting

by Alice Carter

Jodi Gage (Lady Windermere) and John Demita (Lord Darlington) by Jasmine Goldband, Tribune-Review

Jodi Gage (Lady Windermere) and John Demita (Lord Darlington) by Jasmine Goldband, Tribune-Review

Do playwright Oscar Wilde’s works need updating? Director and adapter Alan Stanford thinks so.

Each time Stanford, the interim producing artistic director for Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre has directed Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” he has kept it in London but moved it from its original 1892 time frame. His rationale is that, although Wilde wrote in the late Victorian period, he was really a 20th-century playwright who wrote modern plays.

The Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre production that runs through July 27 in the Charity Randall Theatre is Stanford’s third staging to be set in post-World War II London of 1947.

Fans of Wilde who wonder why anyone would tamper with perfection will find few changes to the text, such as “car” for “carriage.”

The fast-forwarding is most obvious in Joan Market’s costumes that clearly anchor the action in the modern era while offering abundant clues to the personalities, sub-text and intentions of the characters.

In fact, were it not for those costumes, the most striking insight of the production is how little the world of aristocratic British society changed in the five decades.

The rooms that set designer Michael Thomas Essay has created could easily be the backdrop for any of Wilde’s late 19th-century plays.

Moreover, the behavior, morals and attitudes of this closed society have not advanced.

Maybe that’s the point that Stanford is trying to make.

Wilde’s quotable wit and wisdom shines through. But Stanford reminds us that Wilde was not a writer of English comedy but a creator of Irish satire.

“Lady Windermere’s Fan” revolves around mystery and potential scandal in a closed society where everyone knows — and passes judgment on — everyone.

On the afternoon of a ball celebrating her 21st birthday, Lady Windermere discovers that her husband has been seen spending time with, and is known to be paying the bills of, Mrs. Erlynne, an older, somewhat mysterious, woman of questionable reputation.

When his wife confronts him, he admits to helping Mrs. Erlynne, refuses to discuss it and insists that Mrs. Erlynne be invited to the ball.

Lady Windermere, who is on record as seeing people only in terms as good or bad, is appalled.

Fans of the well-made play may not anticipate the specific details that will occur. But they can anticipate where all this will lead.

As the story unfolds over the next 24 hours, the posturing, revelations, reversals of opinion and resolutions are delightful to behold.

Oddly, it’s only in the show’s second half that the interest and action lags just as the play’s tension and drama is at its highest.

The slow, talky scenes in Lord Darlington’s living room move at a glacial pace, even though peppered with Wildean bon mots.

A cast of 17 turn in distinct, individual performances.

Jodi Gage’s Lady Windermere is fresh, pretty and easy to like despite her rigid moral certainties.

But it’s her husband, played by Leo Marks, who turns out to have true moral fiber.

Unfortunately, John DeMita’s portrayal of Lord Darlington makes him appear more like an opportunistic used-car salesman than a sympathetic support for Lady Windermere.

What make the production deliciously entertaining are older, wiser, more cynical or worldly wise characters and the experienced actors who portray them.

Nike Doukas’s Mrs. Erlynne lives up to her description as “the edition of a deluxe of a French novel.” She’s an intriguing, attractive, guilty pleasure, yet a woman possessed of a brain and abundant courage.

Helena Ruoti turns in an entertaining performance as the forbidding Duchess of Berwick, a younger version of Wilde’s iconic Lady Bracknell.

Martin Giles turns in a sympathetic, yet abundantly humorous, performance as Lord Augustus Lorton, Mrs. Erlynne’s most adoring suitor.

Ultimately, Stanford’s time change brings little new to the proceedings except for the eye candy of its costuming.

The plus side, they’re a harmless diversion.

Despite being dead for more than a century, Wilde still has a great deal to say and he continues to do so with wit, eloquence and insight.

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or