Dixie Carter is a positively delicious Mrs. Erlynne, Oscar Wilde’s classic “good woman,” but even she must bow to the costume and scene shops in the Shakespeare Theater’s satisfying production of “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” the final play of a most memorable season in the company’s Lansburgh Theater.
The production of Wilde’s 1892 social parody is a rich banquet, opulent even by the Shakespeare Theater’s lofty standards and astounding in its attention to detail. Set designer Simon Higlett has created a palace for Lord Windermere’s mansion and a wonderfully clubby residence for the lovesick Lord Darlington. The insufferable visitors were never so splendidly attired as in Robert Perdziola’s lavish Victorian costumes.
Yet as overpowering as those trappings could be, the performances are every bit their match under Keith Baxter’s exquisitely paced direction.
Carter, who appeared in the theater’s 1998 production of Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance,” seizes control of the proceedings from the instant she is introduced to the birthday ball’s gossiping throng, her red satin gown brightly contrasting with the subtle hues worn by others. Carter’s Mrs. Erlynne is the coolest of customers here, rightfully disdainful of the hypocrisy around her while compassionate and focused on preventing Wilde’s merry scandal. It is a finely measured performance.
Other polished perfs abound in roles large and small. Among the women, Nancy Robinette is delightful as the controlling Duchess of Berwick, doling out principled opinions and spouting orders to her sheepish daughter Agatha (a riotously zombielike Tonya Beckman Ross, who gets laughs just gliding across the room). Tessa Auberjonois as Lady Windermere is the picture of aristocratic petulance as she issues commands to servants, encourages her admirer and pursues the rash suspicion of her husband’s infidelity.
Among the men, Matthew Greer is a properly inscrutable Lord Darlington, the dandy eager to pursue his infatuations while adroitly delivering some of Wilde’s most timeless epigrams (“Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it”). Andrew Long plays a proper and humorless Lord Windermere, while David Sabin is a stitch as the vain and vulnerable Lord Augustus. Emery Battis, Stephen Patrick Martin and Gregory Wooddell are among the solid troupe of supporting characters.
Peter West’s careful lighting showcases the disjointed proceedings to perfection.