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THEATER BEAT

'Windermere's Fan' Wavers at Moments

February 09, 1996|SCOTT COLLINS

"A cynic," says a character in "Lady Windermere's Fan" at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, "is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Oscar Wilde was a man who knew the value of one-liners, and some of his very best adorn this ingeniously constructed fin de siecle comedy. As in much of Wilde's work about the Anglo-Irish upper class, what happens is really secondary; what matters is what's said and how. There's a delicious thrill in hearing the stuffy Duchess of Berwick (Kathy Davis) toss off lines like, "Men become old, but they never become good."

Adultery--an obsession for late-Victorian writers--supplies the grist for an otherwise sober-minded comedy. The title character (Nancy Finn) is a sheltered aristocrat who suspects her new husband (Brenan Baird) of having an affair with the notorious middle-aged courtesan Mrs. Erlynne (Dani Thompson). The suspicion nearly sends Lady Windermere into the arms of Darlington (Bryan Black), the kind of patrician rake who's forever vowing to leave the country, before some previously telegraphed plot twists resolve the scandal.

Director Darlene Hunter-Chaffee's production begins promisingly but slowly runs out of steam. In a dialogue-driven comedy of manners, vivid and idiosyncratic performances are a must, and this outing only partly satisfies. While Finn is reliably elegant and forlorn as Lady Windermere and Davis has fun with Berwick, there are, at the risk of sounding cynical, too many pedestrian or shaky interpretations elsewhere.

* "Lady Windermere's Fan," Long Beach Playhouse, Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays-Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sunday and March 3, 2 p.m. Ends March 9. $10. (310) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

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