Scena Theatre’s production of Woman of No Importance promises Oscar Wilde’s signature cocktail of witty banter and razor sharp wit combined with the ridiculousness of the upper crust exposed for our amusement.
To add to the fun, this show is set amid 1930s Hollywood glamour with the extra interest of an all female cast. However, even with these tantalizing attributes in play, something about this mix doesn’t quite hit the spot.
Woman of No Importance takes us into the drawing room – or in this case the screening room – of the well-to-do. Amid the gossiping ladies and the harrumphing gentlemen, Gerald Arbuthnot shares the terrific news that the powerful and charming Lord Illingworth is taking him on as his secretary. Things really seem to be going Gerald’s way when his attraction to Hester Worsley, a young, puritanical American, is mutual. Gerald can’t wait to share all the good news with his mother, Mrs. Arbuthnot. Unfortunately, when Mrs. Arbuthnot hears the news, she cannot share in her son’s joy about his new connection with Illingworth. She is forced to reveal a long time secret that threatens to upend Gerald’s promising future.
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Staged at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Lab Theatre I, the intimacy of the space suits the private asides and whispered rumors of Woman of No Importance. In keeping with the production’s 1930s theme, the performers pose in the exaggerated styles of the era’s film stars, their actions punctuated by quirky sound cues. These were an interesting strategy to keep the action lively in this drawing room play, avoiding what could have been very static staging. While the madcap jokiness was fun, the actions didn’t always mesh with the tone of the scenes, particularly after the plot takes a decidedly serious turn.
This stylization extended to the cast’s performances as well, with the ancillary characters all adopting over-the-top actions and accents to highlight the play’s humorous elements. There were a few times that it worked well, lending a silly, frothy feel to the proceedings. More frequently, however, the exaggerations of each character tended to clash with the others, making the scenes feel uneven.
The exceptions were Sara Barker as Mrs. Arbuthnot and Nanna Ingvarsson as Lord Illingworth. Barker and Ingvarsson give eminently watchable and compelling performances. Barker gives the most naturalistic performance in the cast; she makes Wilde’s text a pleasure to listen to. Each time she was on stage, her presence was a focused calm in the midst of the swirling action in the scene. Ingvarsson pulls off an impressive balance with her performance, moving skillfully between a louche Lothario and a man reckoning with his past. She also managed to create a bridge between Barker’s sober performance and the rest of the cast’s antics, fully able to hold her own in both silly and serious scenes.
Woman of No Importance
closes December 2, 2018
Details and tickets
The set, while spare, has enough touches of luxury (fluid drapery, large folding screens) to set the right atmosphere for the play. The backdrop included a screen with projections that highlighted lines from the play, which at times served as helpful scenic transitions. The projections also provided visual interest in the spare set and did make for some humorous juxtapositions. That said, the screen’s frequent changes didn’t always leave enough time for the audience to make the connection between the action on stage and what was being projected.
Much thought was put into each of the elements presented in Woman of No Importance, and there is a lot of enjoyment to be had from Wilde’s skill with language and the performances by Barker and Ingvarsson. A better blending of those elements may have made this production go down a bit more smoothly.
Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde. Directed by Robert McNamara. Cast: Sara Barker (Mrs. Arbuthnot), Jen Bevarelli (Gerald), Karen Elle (Mr. Kelvil), Nanna Ingvarsson (Lord Illingworth), Ellie Nicoll (Sir John), Ruthie Rado (Lady Stutfield/Alice), Melissa B. Robinson (Lady Hunstanton), Karin Rosnizeck (Lady Caroline), Dina Soltan (Mrs. Allonby), Zoe Walpole (Francis/Lord Alfred), Moriah Whiteman (Hester). Resident Director & Dramaturg: Gabriele Jakobi. Sound Designer: Denise Rose. Set Designer: Michael C. Stepowany. Lighting Designer: Johnathan Alexander. Costume Designer: Alisa Mandel. Projection Designer: Jesse Marciniak. Movement Consultant: Kim Curtis. Fight Choreographer: Paul Gallagher. Dialect Coach: Colin Davies. Assistant Director: Anne Nottage. Stage Manager: Mavonte Johnson. Produced by Scena Theatre. Reviewed by Kate Gorman.