Story: Alfie Byrne lives a quiet life in his Dublin neighborhood circa 1964. The bachelor bus conductor, who shares a modest home with his sister Lily where he is the primary cook, has a passion for theater that he fulfills as director of a community troupe which performs at his local Catholic church.
When Alfie announces that the next play the group will do is Oscar Wilde’s tragedy Salome, however, more than one eyebrow is raised at the prospect of performing a ‘scandalous’ work by such a controversial writer as the famous homosexual native son. Father Kenny, who views the troupe’s quality as mediocre at best, tells Alfie the show will not be performed and shuts it down.
With Alfie’s dream stifled of producing another play by his favorite playwright, on the heels of previous renditions of Wilde’s non-controversial comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest, 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 co-worker Robbie, the parish members who comprise his troupe and his sister Lily’s determination to postpone her own wedding until her brother is married. 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. This endearing little musical written by the team behind Ragtime is anchored by an affecting, bravura performance by Mark Kelley in the title role.
Other Info: Kelley’s haunting portrayal of the quiet, kind-hearted and lonely Alfie is one of the very best performances on a local stage this year. He fully embodies the heart and soul of this mild-mannered and measured character, who lives for expressions of art in a world where a declaration of his sexuality can lead to severe and shocking beatings.
Kelley’s Alfie is gentle and caring and ever excited by the prospect of bringing Wilde’s witty works to his local stage, even if it’s the church basement. The uncredited scenic designer (director Christina Rios?) cleverly depicts the back stage at the church where the St. Imelda’s Players congregate for rehearsal, an area lined with myriad costumes and props furnished by Heather Tucker.
Amanda Brasher’s costumes finely depict Ireland’s biggest city in the early 1960s as well as classily adorning conductor Curtis Moeller and his orchestra in similar attire as they perform the show’s score off stage right. Keyboardist Moeller is joined by Benjamin Ash on bass, violinists Twinda Murry and Hanna Kroeger, cellist Emily T. Lane, guitarist Adam Rugo and flutist Marc Strathman.
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, based on a 1992 film of the same name. One can discern similarities in the artistic style so prevalent in the historically sweeping Ragtime with this relatively obscure but superbly crafted piece.
Rios elicits strong and well-etched performances from her capable cast, although many, but not all, of the players struggle to project their voices at times over the nearby musical ensemble.
In addition to Kelley’s steady and 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 Lily. She shares some telling scenes with Michael B. Perkins as he convincingly portrays the stuffy butcher Mr. Carney.
Perkins craftily shows the menacing change in Carney’s demeanor from enjoying taking center stage in Alfie’s shows to coldly deciding that his potential brother-in-law is promoting pornography. In addition, Perkins makes for a suave and dashing Wilde, who appears in Alfie's reminiscences to guide the repressed man to some element of belated happiness.
Kent Coffel is 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 parish ladies 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, while 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 the affable Robbie, albeit struggling with the musical aspects, while Jennifer Theby-Quinn superbly embodies the frustrations and desires of the caustic, chain-smoking, illicit lover Mrs. Patrick.
While Flaherty’s music can be difficult to sing, Rios and her inspired cast realize the cadence not only in their characters but in the era and locale as well. A Man of No Importance continues R-S’ tradition of presenting polished and pensive musicals such as Parade while doing so in uplifting fashion.
Musical: A Man of No Importance
Company: R-S Theatrics
Venue: Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive
Dates: August 16, 17, 18, 23, 24, 25
Tickets: $20-$25, contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Michael Young