A simple man who has lived his entire life within his books finally enters the real world, only to find it is not nearly as welcoming or romantic as he hoped. Keegan Theatre’s A Man of No Importance charts the poignant journey of Dublin bus conductor Alfie Byrne as he navigates the emotional minefield of real life and finally learns how to “Love Who You Love.”
This touching musical details Alfie’s public and private struggles in the world of 1960’s Dublin, Ireland. He has spent most of his life enveloped in the world of poetry, plays, and novels, particularly those of his idol Oscar Wilde. When not riding the bus and entertaining passengers with daily poetry readings, Byrne stages plays with his group of amateur actor friends in St. Imelda’s Catholic Church. However, Alfie’s pleasant, cultured facade conceals a deep inner void which cannot be filled by any number of sonnets or romantic poems. As he toils on his new production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, he also wrestles with his own identity and secret desires. When revelations surface about the risque nature of Wilde’s play and Alfie’s hidden lifestyle, the bus conductor’s formerly quiet life and the community of St. Imelda’s are shaken to their foundations.
As Alfie, Buzz Mauro delivers one of the most entrancing, natural performances I’ve ever seen. Mauro deftly manages Alfie’s fragile balance of confidence and extreme vulnerability with his masterful command of the text, evocative singing voice, and constantly shifting physicality. His eyes sparkle as he quotes Wilde to his friends and colleagues, yet he shrinks from the bright light of street lamps and the touch of strangers. He stands tall while directing his cast and reading aloud on the bus, but he hunches awkwardly when pushed out of his comfort zone into the gritty pubs of Dublin. Mauro seems to feel every bit of his character’s passion and pain in his bones. With his inspired portrayal, Mauro made me forget for a few magical moments that he is simply an actor playing a role, bringing Alfie to life on the stage of the cozy Church Street Theater.
Kristen Jepperson deserves praise for her strong, sympathetic portrayal of Alfie’s sister Lily. Grounded and practical, Lily provides a needed counterpoint to Alfie’s literary daydreaming. Jepperson entertains early with her well-meaning distrust of Alfie’s cultured habits, such as Italian cooking and love of poetry. Lily’s hilarious duet “Books”, performed with local butcher Mr. Carney (played by the talented Harv Lester), reveals a pair that is comically close-minded when it comes to matters of culture. In the second act, Jepperson strips away Lily’s judgmental tendencies to reveal a bedrock of sisterly love. After playing skeptical foil to Alfie’s hopeless romantic, Jepperson finally claims her place in the spotlight in “Tell Me Why”, wearily chronicling a life spent passing up her own happiness to care for Alfie. The ending line, where she remarks to an absent Alfie, “You must have known…I’d love you all the same,” is a devastating moment, one which Jepperson handles with the gentle subtlety of a veteran performer.
Deb Gottesman gets special mention for her impeccable comic timing and delivery. These skills play heavily into her scene-stealing performance as Mrs. Curtin in the group number “Art”. After a series of enjoyable interludes from other cast members, Gottesman grabs the reins and brings down the house with her “original” choreography for Salome’s dance of seduction.
Directors Coakley and Rhea have created a tight, moving production that utilizes the small space of the Church Street Theater as an effective thematic element. The interior of St. Imelda’s provides the setting for the whole play, and the scene changes rely on a rotating arrangement of chairs and tables, as well as clever lighting that defines the boundaries of each scene within the larger stage. The effect is such that even as Alfie’s world expands, the play still feels constrained to a tiny world. This reflects a sense of isolation that grows as Alfie comes to fully understand his identity and its ramifications for his family and community. The directors use clever double-casting to establish an extremely entertaining alter-ego for the puritanical Mr. Carney. The music direction and accompaniment are impressive, as well. Aaron Broderick and his musicians maintain a strong lyrical undercurrent that adapts to the flourishes and dynamics of the actors as they roam about the stage without mics.
Having just come returned from Dublin two weeks ago, I found particular enjoyment in the locations and cultural touchstones referenced in the work. The conflict between old and new ways of life, as well as the importance of family above all else, feel spot-on. The play doesn’t hinge on its Gaelic bona fides, however. The Irish trappings merely provide a strong cultural framework for this beautiful fable of loneliness, acceptance, love, and the value of art for art’s sake. Keegan Theatre’s production of A Man of No Importance is an absolute gem that will have you laughing, crying, and cheering.
A Man of No Importance
By Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty . Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Christina Coakley and Mark A. Rhea
Produced by The Keegan Theatre
Reviewed by Ben Demers
A Man of No Importance plays thru July 11, 2010.
For Details, Directions and Tickets, click here.
A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE