Andrew Boyer

Andrew Boyer

Cal Shakes gets Wilde with 'Windermere'

Good is good, but bad is better in “Lady Windermere's Fan.”

Oscar Wilde's incisive 1892 comedy, which gave the playwright his first theatrical success, earns its laughs with every sly observance and witty barb about the roles of men and women in Victorian England. But under the humor, Wilde already had his eye on the damage those roles can inflict on individuals.

The new California Shakespeare Theater production, directed by Christopher Liam Moore, strikes a welcome balance between the play's two extremes. Moore's production takes a while to achieve its devastating blend of comedy and social commentary, but when it does, it's a potent reminder of the hazards of hypocrisy.

Wilde introduces his themes in the first scene, as the title character, Lady Margaret Windermere, learns that her husband has been spending a lot of time with the very unmarried Mrs. Erlynne.

All of London is scandalized, and everyone seems to have advice for Margaret, whose status as a “good” wife and mother doesn't offer her much in the way of options.

Things aren't exactly what they seem, of course. In successive scenes — a soiree given by Margaret, at which Mrs. Erlynne makes an unwelcome appearance, and a late-night convergence at the home of Lord Darlington, who harbors a hidden passion of his own — the play's buried secrets come out.

Moore gives the play an eminently theatrical staging on Annie Smart's elegant set, with lighting by York Kennedy, costumes by Meg Neville and sound by Will McCandless.

The cast isn't ideal. As Margaret, Emily Kitchens spends a lot of time talking about misery and rage, but misses a credible depth of emotion.

Stacy Ross imparts greater dimension to the misunderstood Mrs. Erlynne, and Aldo Billingslea wins sympathy for the rigid Lord Windermere. Nick Gabriel raises the temperature as Darlington.

The comic side is handled with finesse. Danny Scheie, who can get a laugh just by saying “Switzerland,” does a brilliant double turn as the waspish Duchess of Berwick and the antique Lady Jedburgh.

L. Peter Callender, James Carpenter and Dan Clegg are spot-on as upper-crust men, and Rami Margron is delightful as the dim-bulb Agatha.

With performances this funny, it's tempting to see the play merely as lighthearted comedy — until you remember what the social mores of the era did to Wilde himself. Then it all starts to feel deadly serious.


Lady Windermere's Fan

Presented by the California Shakespeare Theater

Where: Bruns Amphitheater, 100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. most Fridays-Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays; closes Sept. 8

Tickets: $20 to $72

Contact: (510) 548-9666,

artsCalifornia Shakespeare TheaterLady Windermere's FanOscar Wilde

Just Posted

Dreamforce returned to San Francisco in person this week – but with a tiny sliver of past attendance. (Courtesy Salesforce)
Dreamforce returns with hundreds on hand, down from 170,000 in the past

High hopes for a larger Salesforce conference shriveled during the summer

The numbers show nearly 14 percent of San Francisco voters who participated in the Sept. 14 recall election wanted to oust Gov. Gavin Newsom from elected office. (Shutterstock photo)
(Shutterstock photo)
How San Francisco neighborhoods voted in the Newsom recall

Sunset tops the list as the area with the most ‘yes’ votes

Alison Collins says that she and other members of San Francisco Unified School District Board of Education facing potential recall “represent constituents that are often erased or talked over.” <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Alison Collins speaks: Embattled SF school board member confronts the recall effort

‘It’s important for folks to know what this recall is about. It’s bigger than any one of us.’

Is the Black Cat incident a distraction from the recovery of The City’s storied nightlife industry or does Mayor London Breed’s behavior inadvertently highlight the predicament the industry’s been in since San Francisco reinstated indoor mask requirements on Aug. 20?<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner, 2021)</ins>
Club owners to maskless mayor: Are we the new fun police?

Black Cat affair highlights difficult recovery for nightlife industry

BART’s Powell Street station in The City was the site of a fatal accident on Sept. 13.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Powell Station death serves as a grim reminder. BART doors don’t stop for anyone

What you need to know about safety sensors on the trains

Most Read