In Oscar Wilde’s mind it was important to be earnest, of little or no importance to be a woman and in Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, Terrence McNally’s musical "A Man Of No Importance" Alfie Byrne was, according to his friends, a man of no importance. To the contrary, he turns out to be somewhat of a local celebrity.
Alfie, (Barron Henzel), the central character in the musical “A Man Of No Importance” currently on stage at Coronado Playhouse through Aug. 26th, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty and book by Terrence McNally and based on the 1994 movie starring Albert Finny, is a simple guy. He's not from your upper crust society. He's just the opposite of many of the characters, flouting their flamboyancy and showing contempt for the privileged class as seen in many of Wilde’s plays.
|Barron Henzel and Ralph Johnson (Bckground)|
The play ran off-Broadway for three months from December 2002 to December 2002 in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center. It did walk away with an Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway of that same year.
It moved to Toronto in 2008 and was transferred to the Arts Theatre, the West End for a limited run in 2010. It’s been around for some time and was produced locally at San Diego State’s Experimental Theatre (Southern California Premiere) in 2004. Rick Simas directed.
Alfie lives a somewhat ordinary life if you don’t count his love of everything Oscar Wilde, his passion for the theatre and the fact that he is a closeted gay (“Man In The Mirror”) in a time when being gay was open season to being accosted, beaten and even raped by those pretending to be friends.
As the central character in ‘Importance’, he is a bus conductor by day as well as a minor actor/producer in his town’s theatrical productions held in the social hall of the local church St. Imelda.
|Ralph Johnson and Jenny GrayConnard|
He is single, celibate living with his sister Lily Byrne (Jennie Gray Connard), loves poetry so much so that on his daily runs as conductor, he reads poetry and passages from Oscar Wilde’s writings. He loves to cook foreign dishes for his sister Lily who has postponed her own marriage plans waiting for Alfie to settle down with a wife.
Back at the church, the disband group of actors, reminiscing about old artifacts, want to start up their acting again after Father Kenney (Thomas Fitzpatrick) all but abolishes the group from using the social hall.
Convinced that they can get the something going, Alfie wants the group to perform Wilde’s “Salome” against the priest and his sisters wishes. It’s too risqué for their liking. (“You should have told me this “Salome” was a dirty play”)
Sounds like a simple set up, but nothing in this seldom produced, odd, yet bittersweet musical is as simple as it appears. Aside from the fact that the characters and troupe members/Greek Chorus are town-folks as well as actors in this productions, almost all play more than one character and speak in broad Irish accents. That somewhat complicates matters in keeping track of who is who and who’s what and what’s said.
The large but uneven cast boasts fourteen members and the characters number about twenty. The few songs and lyrics that are most memorable “Love Who You Love” and “Man in The Mirror” define Alfie and give us a bit of insight into a picture of a lonely, long suffering man itching to be himself against all odds.
Manny Bejarano and his large cast, that give it their all, as has been the spirit of this can do theatre company in the past, didn’t seem quite ready for prime time on opening night. By this writing, all should be in sync.
|Ralph Johnson and Barron Henzel|
On the plus side Barron Henzel (also board president of the Playhouse) has the right look and mournful presence as Alfie, yet the confidence as Wilde when the roles are reversed. Jenny Gray Conrad stands out as Alfie’s sister, first showing her loyalty and protectiveness toward him, after a time, even when he ‘comes out’. “Why did you never tell me?” “You must have known I’d love you all the same.”
Ralph Johnson’s at ease as Mr. Carney, Lily’s love interest and looking quite dapper as Oscar Wilde, (Marcene Drysdale designed the costumes) had a small role as the butcher as well. Michael Van Allen was heartfelt and credible as Baldy, another townsfolk and actor in Alfie’s amateur productions, lost his wife years ago but still visits her grave. (“Cuddles that Mary Gave”)
Musical direction under the baton of Kirk Valles and his six piece band, and some physical choreography by Patrick Mayuyu add to the overall production values including the sprawling set created by Karl Bunker with lighting by Anthony Zelig that illuminates and defines so many of the locations.
Life’s lessons take on many colors. For Alfie, it was ‘to thine own self be true’. Secrets out of the bag; friends coming to stand by your side and embracing life is still about all a man can ask, even one of so called no importance.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Aug. 26th
Organization: Coronado Playhouse
Production Type: Musical
Where: 1835 Strand Way, Coronado, 92118
Ticket Prices: $20.00-$27.00
Photo: Ken Jacques