and experience: (l-r) Soule and Smart in WTF’s Fan.
Oscar Wilde, directed by Moises Kaufman
Williamstown Theatre Festival, through July 17
For his maiden production as artistic director of the Wil
liamstown Theatre Festival, Roger Rees has inaugurated the
festival’s much-anticipated move into its new home (the bleakly
institutional ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance) with Oscar
Wilde’s first London theatrical success. It is something of
a treat to see this rarely produced social comedy, but while
it’s a respectable production, Lady Windermere’s Fan
unfolds with scant fanfare.
The play represents Wilde finding his singular dramatic voice,
but is also a bit too mired in some trying aspects of Victorian
melodrama. Wilde’s brilliant epigrams and ripostes are set
against more serious scenes that critique unfair conventions
that create social and moral inequities.
Thus, we have Lady Windermere, a young lady of unimpeachable
propriety, about to fall from grace when she suspects her
husband is having an inappropriate relationship with an older
woman, Lady Erlynne, of suspect morality. Complicating Lady
Windermere’s moral compass is Lord Darlington, a wit who professes
his love for her. Lord Windermere’s secretiveness coupled
with Lord Darlington’s seductiveness place the titular fan-bearer
between a gust and a hard wind. She may suffer a fatal blow
to her honor by staying with the one, or she may reap humiliation
by getting retribution for the assumed wrong and blowing out
of town with the other.
Lady Windermere is an exceptionally difficult role, given
that she is blessed with none of Wilde’s best lines and most
of the stage time. The triumph in Samantha Soule’s performance
here lies in her ability to enjoin our empathy while also
making some awkward soliloquies seem entirely natural.
Playing the role of the worldly woman with a past, Jean Smart
proves an apt choice. Even if she doesn’t convince that Lady
Erlynne could pass for 30, she cuts a graceful figure and
couples Wilde’s wit with palpable ruefulness as she subtly
becomes the play’s moral center.
The greatest share of Wilde’s humor on the distaff side belongs
to the Duchess of Berwick, who sprinkles her gossip liberally
with bon mots that become bonbons in Isabel Keating’s mouth.
Keating energizes the stage with her every entrance, even
if a few of her pointed observations and rejoinders could
use underlining that is a little less heavy than her eyeliner.
It is in Benjamin Walker’s Cecil Walker that Wilde’s voice
is most perfectly heard. An enormously skilled performer,
he parries and thrusts the epigrams with the requisite carelessness
Unfortunately, it’s as if Stanley Kowalski were playing the
part of Lord Darlington. Where Darlington should be effete,
Adam Rothenberg veers toward brutish; where his quips should
be precise and appear indifferent, Rothenberg is slack-jawed
and deliberately emotional; where Darlington is a sharp-tongued
dandy, Rothenberg is a sputtering dangler; and where Darlington’s
model is Wilde, Rothenberg’s comes from the wild.
The other serious liability is Lord Windermere. It requires
something more than a nonentity to make it work. But Corey
Brill barely registers as a stage presence unless it might
be the fourth wall. Uninteresting, unappealing and uninvolved,
he gives Soule little to play off as regards even a doit of
As the play’s dolt, Lord Augustus, Jack Willis becomes ever
more likeable and converts a potential caricature into a character
of dimension who comically contrasts to the atmosphere of
rarefied intellect and elegance.
And the real discovery is Elliotte Crowell’s Lady Augustus,
who lives in the perpetual shadow of the domineering Duchess
of Berwick. With nothing more than two repeated words of dialogue,
helplessly downcast eyes and an adorably downturned mouth.
she looks embarrassed to be alive. Without any intention or
effort to do so, she almost upstages the others by virtue
of her total commitment to her character.
Adirondack Theatre Festival, through July 16
always wanted to do a one-woman show with a large cast,” says
playwright-actress Leslie Ayvazian, who has created just that
in an entertaining autobiographical monologue about life and
how it leads up to a swimming pool in Greece, with her 11-year-old
and all the other hotel guests encouraging her to jump. Throughout
the hourlong piece, members of the audience, recruited in
the lobby a half-hour before curtain, take on the roles of
Ayvazian’s husband, her mother-in-law, Mickey Rooney, and
Bitchin’ and Frog, two cable installers (well, only Frog really;
Bitchin’ never speaks). With their help, Ayvazian explains
how she ended up stranded on the high dive, why friends call
to find out where she’s going for vacation before booking
their own plans, and how an adulthood that started out “at
sixes and sevens” turned out to be pretty nice.
Ayvazian is a great storyteller, one of those people who can
fill the littlest incident with suspense, drama and humor.
Whenever she goes on vacation, disaster strikes: There’s record
heat in Greece, record cold in Florida (so cold, the fish
froze), a hurricane in Hawaii and an earthquake in Mexico.
Married to a trust-fund baby with an adventuresome WASP gene,
Ayvazian—whose own ancestors left Armenia only because they
had to, and whose only childhood vacation, to Woods Hole,
was considered a bust because it was “windy”—finds herself
camping across the United States and crossing a rope bridge
in the French Alps under the illusion that “I might be, without
my knowing it, someone who liked to do that sort of thing.”
Her first “real” job, working backstage at a dinner theater
in Ohio, provides her earliest brush with stardom, including
a hilarious incident involving Dorothy Lamour (and, of course,
the thing with Mickey Rooney). Then there was the time, during
an 18-month lull between acting gigs in New York, when she
became obsessed with winning the $25,000 Pyramid .
Ayvazian’s conceit, that she can draw the audience in by making
them part of the show, works wonderfully. Like the author,
the impromptu supporting players find themselves taking risks
and coming out fine. The only direction Ayvazian gives them
is to speak loud, and amazingly, that alone is almost enough.
She has said that she’s often surprised at the new and different
readings audience members give to their lines, and opening
night’s audience seemed like they’d rehearsed for weeks. (Could
they have been ringers? Nah, Adirondack Theatre Festival wouldn’t
do that.) It’d be interesting to see the show again to hear
how another group handles it. Having voices call out from
various parts of the relatively large Charles R. Wood Theater
also added an almost textural quality to a piece that otherwise
relies entirely on the images conjured up by Ayvazian’s words
and gestures. All in all, High Dive, though short,
is theater of the highest level, an enjoyable evening spent
in the company of a talented actress who can take a roomful
of strangers and make them feel they’ve faced disaster and
come out all right.