Oscar Wilde wrote “Lady Windermere’s Fan” — a skewering of Victorian morals in general and marriage in particular — in 1892, but that doesn’t mean it has to stay there.
Purchase Repertory Theatre presents “Lady Windermere” this week, with performances Tuesday through Sunday. Produced by the senior Acting Company, director David Bassuk has moved the action ahead a bit, to 1910-11, a decade after the playwright’s death.
One might consider this a small adjustment, but only if one isn’t a student at Purchase, where the shape of skirt, the taper of a coat and the color of a cravat occupy a great deal of time and research: 1910 is not 1908, nor is it 1912.
Mia Bienovich, a senior from Mount Kisco, designed the costumes for “Lady Windermere.”
“It’s not the 1895 Oscar Wilde world,” she says. “David wanted to set it in a more modern world. So it’s set at the end of the season, 1910 into 1911.”
Can you get that specific?
“Between 1905 and 1914, every year, fashion changed almost completely,” Bienovich says. “You went from the S-curve in 1905 — when women were looking severely altered in how their spine went — to our year, when things are much more tubular.”
Between 1910 and 1912, hobble skirts were in vogue.
They still wore corsets, but this particular time bound women differently.
Bienovich has the actresses in what are called “long-lined corsets,” starting below the bust and extending below the bottom, eliminating curves, making the bust appear larger, and restricting the movement of a woman’s legs.
The result was a sort of penguin walk, Bienovich explains.
“They have to literally hobble a little bit,” she says.
“Lady Windermere’s Fan” involves another type of constriction, a marital one. Faced with suggestions that her husband is being unfaithful, Lady Windermere’s choices are limited: Should she leave him or allow the affair to progress?
Bassuk says the period piece requires a change for actors.
“Their givens are very different,” the director says. “There is the era, the difference between the U.S. and Great Britain, but there’s also the issue of class.
“They’re playing lords and ladies and duchesses and they’re in a society where the middle class and poor folks are not on stage. These are an idle class of British at the end of an empire. That is the greatest challenge.”
Olivia Osol from Southborough, Mass., plays the lady of the title.
“She’s this vulnerable young woman who’s trying to find her place,” Osol says.?“It’s supposed to be her birthday party, but it’s the worst day ever. She goes through a whole life in one night.”
Keren Dukes from Baltimore plays Mrs. Erlynne, the outsider suspected of having a fling with Lord Windermere.
“She’s ahead of the curve, a feminist almost,” Dukes says. “She’s got things planned, but she’s a mystery to all.”
Andrew Barton-Smith from Madison, Wis., plays Lord Windermere, a man who admires his wife’s purity and innocence.
His plans for her birthday ball are ruined with the news about Mrs. Erlynne.
“From then on, it’s damage control, damage control, damage control,” Barton-Smith says.
Chris Thompson, a senior from Santa Cruz, Calif., designed the set for “Lady Windermere,” with different levels and a large archway that is shaped, appropriately, like a keyhole.
Through that keyhole is the modern, expanding world, lit by lighting designer Justin Morris.
As this is 24 hours in the life of Lady Windermere, Morris’ lights tell the time, from day to sunset to the sunrise of another day.
As costumes go to character, Mrs. Erlynne wears a bright red, clinging number that looks nothing like the ladies of society with whom she mingles. She’s a step ahead, Thompson says.
Bienovich agrees: “Mrs. Erlynne is Bohemian — artistic and free — while all others are uptight.”
Collin Schulbaum wanted his sound design to “show that these people lived in a society that was elegant, decadent and also subversive.”
The native of Washington sought just the right songs to set the mood, to cover scene changes and to foreshadows events.
The process was exhausting, until he found a podcast of hundreds of songs from the period. He researched the composers and made his selections.
As seniors, this is the first chance these designers have had to take a design to its full realization: Until now, the work has been in model form, a world of what-if’s. This show is about what now.
“Going from a small rendering to having people blow it up to real size and then having my collaborators’ and friends’ work make it better is why we do what we do,” Thompson says.
Morris, the lighting designer, agrees.
“It’s more satisfying because you’re working with friends and we don’t get to design here till we’re seniors. It’s three years of working our butts off and now we see it on stage. It’s very gratifying.”
Much of design — whether lighting, costumes or set — has to do with color choices.
Thompson says the rich and bold palette was inspired, in part, by a pastry shop and by a particular red velvet cake with a deep red sauce. When Thompson showed Bassuk a photo of that cake, the director knew he was onto something.
“It probably helps that we were meeting at Starbucks and Panera Bread,” Bienovich jokes.
What: “Lady Windermere’s Fan”
When: Oct. 13, 14, 15, 16 at 8 p.m.; Oct. 17 at 2 and 8 p.m.; Oct. 18 at 2 p.m.
Where: Purchase College Performing Arts Center’s black box theater, 735 Anderson Hill Road, Purchase.
Tickets: $20, $15 for seniors and non-Purchase students.
Photo by Peter Carr/The Journal News: Olivia Osol and Andrew Barton-Smith rehearse a scene from “Lady Windermere’s Fan” at the Purchase Performing Arts Center.