Wilde ‘fans’ Windy City



Lady Windermere’s Fan

By Arts & Culture Editor

A revival of legendary Irish author and playwright Oscar Wilde’s 1892 play, “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” is being performed at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., by Chicago’s Dead Writers Theatre Collective, a theater company that specifically performs classic plays.

“Lady Windermere’s Fan” is a four-act comedy that explores the love affairs of Lady Windermere and her husband. It premiered during the beginning of Wilde’s reign over the London theater community in the 1890s and, like many of his other works, is consistently performed in theaters around the world. The Dead Writers Theatre Collective was founded in 2011 by Artistic Director Jim Schneider and Managing Director Bob Douglas to produce classic plays in the way they were intended to be performed, without impacting the integrity or modernizing the material, Schneider said. 

Schneider said the Dead Writers Theatre Collective produces classic plays because its members want to preserve the great theatrical works of the past and prove these works still resonate with modern viewers without being edited for timeliness.

“We have a dangerous trend going on today, especially in Chicago, where [directors] want to take and rewrite classics [and] cut them,” Schneider said.  “A lot of directors are using the classics to try and make a name for themselves and completely bending and warping what the intent of the playwright was originally.”

Schneider said this “warping” of classic plays is one of the main reasons he and Douglas created the Dead Writers Theatre Collective.

“I wanted to create a theatre company where we’re able to present the classics in the manner in which they were originally intended,” Schneider said. “To be able to show people that these are vibrant, exciting, wonderful pieces of theater and they’ve held up for centuries because they are well-written and they are universal in their themes. They don’t have to be out on the moon or they don’t have to be translated to modern day for people to understand the meaning. I think that many people dumb down the classics. I don’t dumb down the classics. I try to elevate people to them.”

Joanna Riopelle, who performs one of the lead roles, Mrs. Erlynne, said “Lady Windermere’s Fan” represents a woman’s journey to understanding how complex human behavior is and eventually mature from her experiences with adultery and family dysfunction, a topic that was revolutionary for the time but is still dealt with today.

“Contrary to what people think, the classics still are very relevant because they appeal to the human character in us that has not changed regardless of our circumstances,” Riopelle said. “Like all great artists, Wilde challenged convention and we are still doing that as artists today … he challenges conventional morality that requires people to think in new ways and really examine what is underneath.”

Megan Delay, a member of the Dead Writers Theatre Collective since 2013 who is playing the titular character Lady Margaret Windermere, said Wilde’s dialogue is something actors crave and is one of the reasons Wilde’s work is still being performed more than 120 years after its original release.

“The way the lines are, everything flows so easily and it’s an actor’s dream to do well-written pieces,” Delay said. “That’s just such a treat. There a lot of good, well-written modern pieces, but when you have these classical pieces that are really well written, it just makes your job that much more exciting.”

Schneider said he has been a fan of Wilde since he was 16 years old and said he was initially introduced to the Irish author and playwright through a Masterpiece Theatre play titled “Lillie” in 1977, which features Wilde as a character. Anonther introduction to Wilde came from his high school drama teacher teaching Wilde’s most successful play, 1895’s “The Importance of   Being Earnest.”

“What I love about [Wilde] is obviously his wit, which is unparalleled,” Schneider said. “I think Wilde had an uncanny insight into human nature. He was a man that was probably 100 years ahead of his time, and that’s why his plays still resonate and hold up today even though you’re dealing with melodramatic themes. His characters are so beautifully drawn, the plots are absolutely perfect and there’s just not one bit of wasted dialogue, or anything wasted in any of his plays.”

Riopelle said being in a production of Wilde’s is a pleasure for her as an actress because of the playwright’s wit and language.

“Being in an Oscar Wilde play is a fascinating and full experience because of the tremendous intellect, passion and complexity that comprises this play in particular,” Riopelle said. “It’s just a wonderful experience to be able to be as charming, witty and full on stage as one would like to be in real life.”

 “Lady Windermere’s Fan” runs through June 7. Tickets are $40.