Story: Alfie Byrne lives a quiet life in Dublin in the early 1960s. The bachelor bus conductor shares a modest home with his sister, Lily, and has a passion for theater that he fulfills as director of a community troupe that performs at his Catholic church, St. Imelda’s.
When Alfie names Oscar Wilde’s tragedy Salomé as the next play the group will stage, however, more than one eyebrow raises at the prospect of performing a “scandalous” work by so controversial a writer as the famous homosexual native son. Father Kenny, who views the troupe’s quality as mediocre at best, tells Alfie the show won’t be performed – and shuts it down.
On the heels of a rendition of Wilde’s noncontroversial comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, with his dream of producing another play by his favorite playwright stifled, Alfie reflects on his quiet life as a shy and closeted gay “man of no importance.”
He thinks back on his job, his unexpressed love for his affable co-worker Robbie, the parish members who form his troupe and Lily’s determination to postpone her own wedding till her brother marries. Will he ever be able to reveal who he truly is and follow his own advice to “love who you love”?
Highlights: R-S Theatrics unveils a nifty, heartfelt St. Louis premiere of A Man of No Importance as part of its ninth Season of Finding Home. Anchoring this endearing little musical written by the team behind Ragtime is an affecting, bravura performance by Mark Kelley in the title role.
Other Info: Kelley’s haunting portrayal of the kindhearted, lonely Alfie ranks among this year’s very best local performances. He absolutely embodies the heart and soul of this mild-mannered, measured character, who lives for expressions of art in a world where a declaration of his sexuality could lead to severe beatings.
Kelley’s gentle, caring Alfie remains constantly excited by the prospect of bringing Wilde’s witty works to his local stage – even if it’s just the church basement. The uncredited scenic designer cleverly depicts the back stage at St. Imelda’s, where the players congregate for rehearsal, an area lined with myriad costumes and props furnished by Heather Tucker.
Their expert interpretation of Stephen Flaherty’s Irish-tinged, melancholy score beautifully accompanies Lynn Ahrens’ thoughtful lyrics and the sensitive book written by Terrence McNally, which is based on a 1994 film of the same title. One also can discern similarities in the artistic style so prevalent in the historically sweeping Ragtime with this relatively obscure but superbly crafted piece.
Director Christina Rios elicits strong, well-etched performances from her capable cast, although many of the players struggle to project their voices at times over the nearby musical ensemble.
In addition to Kelley’s steady, emotionally wrought interpretation of Alfie, there’s marvelous work by others in the stalwart cast, including Stephanie Merritt as Alfie’s staunchly old-fashioned sister. She shares some telling scenes with Michael B. Perkins as he convincingly portrays Mr. Carney; Perkins craftily shows the menacing change in the stuffy butcher’s demeanor from enjoying taking center stage in Alfie’s shows to coldly deciding his potential brother-in-law is promoting pornography.
Kent Coffel makes for a charming Baldy, a dapper chap who dearly misses his late wife, while Kay Love, Nancy Nigh and Jodi Stockton amusingly portray a trio of parishioners who definitely put the “community” in community theater – it’s fun to watch these talented women polish their roles as wannabe actresses.
Lindy Elliott does well as Adele, a young woman with a dark secret, although her tiny voice needs amplification when singing. Dustin Allison is convincing as the carelessly blunt Father Kenny, and Marshall Jennings is effective as the frightening, psychopathic Breton Beret, a pub friend of Robbie’s, as well as reliable troupe performer Rasher Flynn.
Kellen Green succeeds in his portrayal of Robbie, albeit struggling with the musical aspects, while Jennifer Theby-Quinn superbly embodies the frustrations and desires of the chain-smoking, illicit lover Mrs. Patrick. Perkins (again) makes for a suave, dashing Wilde, who appears in Alfie’s reminiscences to guide the repressed man to some element of happiness.
Although Flaherty’s music can be difficult to sing, there’s little doubt that Rios and her inspired cast realize the cadence not only in their characters but also in the era and locale. A Man of No Importance continues R-S Theatrics’ tradition of presenting polished, pensive musicals such as Parade while doing so in uplifting fashion.
Company: R-S Theatrics
Venue: The Marcelle, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis
Dates: Aug. 23 to 25
Tickets: $20 to $25; contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1 to 5