Jason Roseberry & Leslie Spitznagel. Photo: Theatreworks of SoIn
A Man of No Importance
By Terence McNally
Music & lyrics by Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Chris Bundy
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Theatre is for everybody, and it can transform any life. A Man of No Importance shows this to be true for a lorry conductor in Dublin Ireland. Set in 1963, Alfie Byrne, (Jason Roseberry) is the director of an amateur theatre troupe in a local Catholic church that is attempting to mount a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome. Byrne feels an affinity for Wilde (he has apparently produced The Importance of Being Earnest several times) and pushes against Father Kenny’s (Rick Kaultz) objection to the famous Irish writer’s “dirty play.”
Alfie lives with his sister, Lily (Hannegan Roseberry), who doesn’t appreciate her brother’s interest in haute cuisine, and is anxious for him to get married so she can follow suit, most likely with Carney (Chris Haulter), Alfie’s butcher and perennial leading man. There is no woman in his life, but Alfie is close friends with Robbie (Robbie Steiner), the driver he works with, and there lies the rub.
Writer Terrence McNally is a figure of no small importance in the LGBTQ community, having been one of the first playwrights to include homosexuality as a major theme in his writing as early as 1964, and having written plays such as Love! Valor! Compassion!, and Mothers and Sons. This coming out story is handled more subtly than you might expect, and Alfie’s journey doesn’t go as far as it would if it were set in a more contemporary time frame. The narrative (adapted from a 1995 film starring Albert Finney) positions Alfie’s homosexuality as just one challenge to the working class characters, refuses to demonize those who stand against his choices, and allows a resolution that emphasizes community and loyalty.
There is a good deal of humor drawn from the limitations of the unsophisticated but hard-working folk in the neighborhood. Carney and Lily sing a sweetly satirical number about “Books” in regards to Alfie’s off habits of reading and cooking, and later on, one of the lesser characters, Baldy (Lee Gibson) is given a touching ode to his deceased wife, “The Cuddles Mary Gave.” Both numbers capture the quirkily hermetic aspect and sentimentality of these Dubliners. They may never leave their neighborhood, much less their city, and it explains how important culture is to Alfie.
The score cannot be ranked among the greats; it is slow to build momentum and only really has an impact once Robbie leads the cast through “The Streets of Dublin”, but it has charm and humility to spare, relishing understated character moments. The only accompaniment is a lone piano, and while I think the limited instrumentation is a detriment, Jessica Litwiniec Dorman gives it her all, providing a spirited rendering of the music.
Jason Roseberry is quite effective as Alfie, making sense of the character’s arrested development and singing with emotional clarity. Robbie Steiner is highly charismatic as the object of Alfie’s affections, full of wolfish charm and also in strong voice. As the red herring romantic interest, Adele, Leslie Spitznagel does some of her best work here, beguiling in expressing the characters balance of innocence and world-weariness, and she has a lovely voice. Her character feels like it might deserve a little more from the text, but Adele is given her own story, one that serves as a mirror of a kind to Alfie and gives A Man of No Importance greater depth and pathos.
Chris Bundy has managed a cast who can all sing at least passably well, and many are much better than that. Much of the score is plaintive, with one truly demanding vocal, “Our Father”, managed with ease by Jennifer Poliskie, whose golden throat is good fortune to any show that can claim her, and one other song that borders on true greatness. “Art” is a delirious illustration of the collaborative excitement that drives people to make theatre just for the thrill of it. It is a clear delineation of the theme of salvation through creative expression that feels as crucial to the story as that of Alfie’s struggle with his orientation.
Mr. Bundy also continues to do wonders designing the settings for the broad but narrow TheatreWorks stage. The impressionistic backdrop of Dublin is lovely and a perfect match for the score.
A Man of No Importance
Sept. 26 – 30, & Oct. 3 – 6 @ 7:30 pm
& Oct. 7 @ 2:00 pm
TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.