The seventeenth season of the Irish Classical Theatre Company is off to a resounding start with Brother Augustine Towey’s lively production of A Man of No Importance. Based on the 1994 film, written by stage-veteran Terrence McNally (Dead Man Walking, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune—cross-references below) with Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics set to music by Stephen Flaherty, this musical, about a dream of mounting a play (Oscar Wilde’s always controversial Salomé) set in 1964 Dublin, will appeal to amateur actors, closeted men (and their admirers) and anyone else who enjoys a pint after church.
Alfie (Brian Riggs, who soars through the role with passionate conviction) is a bus conductor by day and the mover/shaker/director of the St. Imelda Players by night. With a few modest successes under his belt, the forty-something bachelor conjures up a vision of staging Wilde’s take on the beheading of John the Baptist. Alfie’s imagination runs fast, free and frenetic as he cobbles together his dream cast.
At the top of his list is Robbie (Chris Critelli, whose eye-catching torso more than makes up for any weakness at the top of his singing range). A fellow bus-company employee, the pair seem to have more than a passing interest in each other—particularly when Robbie bares his chest after another dirty day at the office.
Unsure of his acting abilities, the muscular tire-changer asks his colleague to join him for a night on the town. Before you can say “set up,” Alfie’s belting out a mandatory tune for the lads (“Singing is a window unto a man’s soul.”), one of whom (Breton, played with oily ease by David Autovino) shamelessly propositions the trembling troubadour at the bar. Fortunately, Alfie already thinks he’s smitten with Dublin newcomer and potential leading lady both on and off the stage, Adele (earnestly and effectively portrayed by Michele Roberts). But as Alfie gradually awakens to his sexuality and embraces the “love that dare not speak its name,” he finally musters the courage for a roll in the barley with Breton only to be beaten and robbed by his queer companions. Welcome to Gayland!
That nasty incident inadvertently outs the lonely theatre-lover to the community. His sister Lily (Loraine O’Donnell, a strong vocalist and a pleasure in every scene) assures her brother that her love will never end even as his colleagues engage in various forms of the cold shoulder.
The workman-like score (little chance of whistling much on the way home) is competently performed by pianist Nathan R. Matthews (who is also the music director) and violinist Mary Ramsey. Ramsey has the ideal, sweet and pointed tone to bring much-needed colour and variety to the show; perhaps the extensive use of a mute could be rethought as some of her excellent contributions remained seen but not heard. The uncredited recorder of the opening moments was most welcome: More, please.
Towey has crafted a production that moves forward with purpose and verve. Much of that pacing is the result of Stacy Zawadzki Janusz’s deft choreography. Having the ensemble (using the multiple entryways that give all ICTC presentations a certain innate sense of drama) seamlessly construct the bus (hilariously and appropriately, this vehicle goes both ways) looks much simpler than it is—a sure sign of skill. Only the untidiness of the tap dancing (similar to the full-blown chorus’ final consonants and transitions) could be improved—no doubt they will, as the show continues its run.
Eric Appleton’s set works at every turn. Tessa Lew’s attention to detail with the costumes (The transit workers’ green ties are spot on; the “Dance of the Seven Zippers” rendering is one of the funniest moments of the night) pays big dividends.
The larger theme of art and its place in society provides narrative relief to the struggle with self. “Art is for old fogies,” comments Peter (Andy Moss) within earshot of Baldy (John “Giovanni” Joy, who shows those on both sides of the lights the unintended truth of that put-down with his every speech, song and move).
As the relationships sort themselves out (boy/boy, boy/girl, clergy/parishioners, boss/underlings) so too do the twin strands to this exuberant tale. Both art and inner-knowledge require the courage to first face, then accept the truth. ICTC’s production provides the ideal forum for that discussion. What are you waiting for? Perhaps the next installment is already being written: The Importance of Being Honest. JWR