I want to talk about the Irish Classical Theatre’s production of ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’

I want to talk about “Lady Windermere’s Fan” — the Irish Classical Theatre’s company’s last show show of their 2017-18 season.

Written in 1892 by Oscar Wilde and directed by Josephine Hogan, “Lady Windermere’s Fan” centers upon a prop piece, a beautiful and ornate white feathered fan adorned with bits of silver and engraved with the name “Margaret.”

The fan was a recent birthday present from Lord Windermere (Matt Witten) to his wife Lady Margaret Windermere (Arianne Davidow) and serves much of the narrative drive of Wilde’s two-hour and four act play. At one point, it’ll become a ticking bomb, which will cause social ruin upon its discovery — the wand which will turn gossip until scandal. But for the most part, the wand — I mean fan — is a symbol of goodness and love and favor and sacrifice, much like the reputation of the good Puritan woman who owns the accessory.

Lady Windermere has many fans. She’s a good woman of London’s high society and her admirers include the bachelor Lord Darlington (Ben Michael Moran), divorcee Mrs. Erlynne (Kate LoConti), the Duchess of Berwick (Colleen Gaughan), and her husband, Lord Windermere. But her and her biggest fans are dipped in scandal when Lord Windermere pays installments to social newcomer Mrs. Erlynne, whose quick social rise and number of male suitors, including Lord Augustus Lorton (Christian Brandjes), becomes a favorite topic of conversation. The gossip rises several octaves when Lord Windermere invites Mrs. Erlynne to his wife’s birthday ball as the play begins.

There’s much to love about “Lady Windermere’s Fan.” Lise Harty’s costumes are beautiful, especially the shimmery off-the-shoulder gowns.

Wilde’s writing is witty and wonderful, drawing you in with gossip and humor, balanced with Puritan sensibilities and aphorisms like, “The difference between gossip and scandal is scandal is gossip with morality.”

But even though “Lady Windermere’s Fan” is tipped toward scandal, it isn’t a dull or fussy play. No, the actors remind you it’s a comedy. There’s the Windermeres’ butler (David Lundy), who’s wears such plain disdain on his face that you have to laugh as his expressions; and Lady Agatha Carlisle (Emily Collins), who parrots high and chirpy “Yes, ma’ms” until the words become meaningless and you have to laugh at the absurdity. Then there’s Brandjes, who resembles a human puppy that you can almost see his tail wagging as he reaches for a treat just out of reach.

The whole ensemble cast is excellent, but there’s no question what or who “Lady Windermere’s Fan” is really about. LoConti steals the show as the wickedly charming Mrs. Erlynne, whose wit and cleverness allow her to untangle herself from the knots of high British society. Like a magician, she escapes through a series of secret trapped doors while you watch, as transfixed as her male suitors who follow her around like puppies. By the end of the play, you know this: you are Lady Windermere’s fan, as well as Lady Erlynne’s.

 

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‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ can save your life

Meet Eleanor Oliphant, the almost-thirty-something-year-old heroine in Gail Honeyman’s debut novel “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.”

She’s the UK version of Ellie Kemper’s character in the Netflix original “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Eleanor isn’t as cheerful and bubbly as Kimmy Schmidt. And she wasn’t kidnapped by a man and forced to live in an underground bunker.

But Eleanor has survived her own traumas — ones that she drowns with weekend vodka binges in her apartment by herself.

It’s fine.

She’s fine.

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“Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”
By Gail Honeyman.
327 pp. Viking. $26.  
2017.

And that’s been her routine for nine years. But then she sees this musician at a distance at a concert and she becomes convinced he’s going to become her boyfriend. This leads to a succession of hilarious and heartwarming firsts: first Hollywood bikini wax, first makeover, first haircut and first time she felt like she was pretty.

The reader is just along for the ride.

Honeyman’s novel is kind of funny and kind of sad — even if Eleanor doesn’t quite see it that way.

(Eleanor thinks she’s fine, remember?)

But the reader is like an extrovert peering at the habits of an extreme introvert, seeing someone who normally goes without seeing or speaking to anyone from the time she leaves work on Friday and returns to work on Monday.

Perhaps Eleanor doesn’t know how it feels to be anything other than lonely?

But she’s not alone.

None of us are — even if it may sometimes feel that way.

Honeyman’s novel is a call to action: to reach out and to be good to your neighbor.

It might save a life.

 

The trial of the ‘Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance’

At one point in Ruth Emmie Lang’s debut novel “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance,” one of her characters warns another to not try too hard while trying to impress someone.

If only Lang took her own advice.

Lang tries really hard to impress you — to get you to like Weylyn Gray, a boy who grew up with wolves.

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“Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance”
By Ruth Emmie Lang.
346 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $25.99.  
2017.

First, she kills off his real human parents in a freak accident. (Surely that’s got to score some sympathy points.)

If making Weylyn an orphan doesn’t do the trick, she gives him an awesome sidekick (a unicorn pig Weylyn names Merlin) and the ability to perform real magic. This is a kid who can talk to animals and start blizzards, stop tornadoes, revive plants and start downpours.

What’s more, Lang invents nine character witnesses for the sole purpose of trying to get you to like Weylyn.

Through Weylyn’s doctor Daniel Proust, teacher Mrs. Meg Lowry, sister Lydia Kramer, mayor Bobby Quinn Jr., boss Duane Fordham, neighbor Roarke, nephew Micah Barnes, butcher Nelson Penlore, and friend Mary Penlore’s first-person narratives, the jury understands Gray — a man who becomes more fantastical and extraordinary with each retelling that his feats almost read like a bunch of Chuck Norris jokes by the end.

Through their words, Weylyn Gray is a humble giant of a man, Lang’s own Paul Bunyan. (Like Bunyan, Gray was also a part-time lumberjack in one of his past lives.)

Weylyn made their lives more interesting, sometimes giving it color when it didn’t have any (One of Weylyn’s magical abilities is to create rainbows out of thin air).

But still, “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances” feels and sounds surprisingly ordinary next to Superman or the X-Men or Mowgli from “The Jungle Book” or Paul Bunyan or Boo Radley from “To Kill A Mockingbird” or Tom Sawyer — that the tall tales of Weylyn Gray may not stand the test of time.

The alternating prospectives, which all sound the same, make it hard to connect with a single character, but their attitudes color how you see Weylyn. Those who knew Weylyn treat Weylyn as a novelty initially (the boy who doesn’t sit in chairs, stops tornados with his bare hands, jars the light of fireflies or patches his roof with cobwebs). To them, Weylyn sounded like an alien — a person who didn’t really belong in their world even though he made their lives more magical.

To them, Weylyn was the best kind of human (like Boo Radley from Harper Lee’s book “To Kill a Mockingbird”) — the kind of guy who “don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy.”

It’d be a sin to hurt him, Lang seems to be saying, just like it’d be a sin to criticize Lang’s young adult novel. Like Lee’s mockingbirds or the bird (I mean wolf) boy Weylyn, Lang created “Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstances” to be enjoyed. Who are we to shoot them down?