“A Man of No Importance”
Who: Redhouse Arts Center
Where: 201 West Street, Syracuse, NY
When: Through Feb. 7
Reviewed by Jake Cappuccino
The Redhouse Arts Center continues to tackle difficult human stories with its production of A Man of No Importance.
A Man of No Importance, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, tells the story of Alfie Byrne, an Irish bus conductor living in Dublin, as he tries to direct and put on a production of Salome, a play by Oscar Wilde, at his local theater sponsored by the Catholic Church. The plot details Alfie’s struggles with the community, his family and friends and with his own feelings, frequently narrated aloud to his imagined confidante, Oscar Wilde.
From the set design and lighting to the leading and supporting performances, A Man of No Importance hits nearly every note well. Given that the show was technically a dress rehearsal and not the debut, the cast and crew did well with few errors.
The play was written to be sung and spoken with Irish accents. While the accents became natural as the play proceeded, they sometimes made dialogue and/or songs difficult to understand. The difficulty of singing with a foreign accent could have caused some of the singing mistakes. Almost every singer in the play had a flat or a sharp moment. So, though performances weren’t perfect, they were as good as they could have been in the context.
Those few negativities aside, the production was surprisingly good. Working in such a small space with such small wings is no easy feat and, yet, the director and the various designers involved in creating the production did a fantastic job. Sets were clear and brimming with details in the small stage space. What the set design did for the stage, the costumes did for the characters.
When the character of Oscar Wilde enters, the costume indicates, with flair and flamboyance, who he is before the actors ever could. The lighting often singlehandedly created the mood or atmosphere with simplicity and ease, as was the case in Alfie’s Oscar Wilde dream sequences.
Completing the atmosphere and setting is the yet more incredible music from Musical Director Patrick Burns. Musicians actually performed on stage for A Man of No Importance, which was not only more enjoyable, but also allowed for certain actors to play in the small orchestra, which they remarkably pulled off.
In addition to pushing the limits on stage with the production values, leading and supporting actors turned in strong performances. Occasional accent and vocal struggles asides, the cast handled the frequently funny and sometimes serious subject matter with nuance. Michael Pine, who played Alfie, did a great job, considering the accent, the complexity of the character and his lines, and the sheer size of the part. The supporting cast certainly elevated him and periodically added some much-needed humor. John Bixler, who played Oscar Wilde and Carney, the devout catholic trying to stop Alfie’s play, had the fewest mistakes of any performer if any mistakes at all. Aubrey Panek, who played Alfie’s sister Lily, makes the most jokes and definitely received the most laughs. Matthew Elliot, who played Alfie’s friend and bus driver Robbie, did fine and straightforward work as a regular, average Joe who isn’t interested in plays or poetry. Though choosing a best song is both difficult and arbitrary, Elliot’s rendition of “The Streets of Dublin” was well sung, humorous and ably performed.
The ensemble supported the main cast well, too. Ryan Halsaver, who played Father Kenney, the priest in charge of Alfie’s theater space, had a few laugh-out-loud moments of his own, which is essential in this play and great work as a minor character.
There are many individual reasons to go to the Redhouse’s production of A Man of No Importance. But for this play, it is not any one particular feature worth seeing, but all elements as they work together. Taken all together, the Redhouse cast performed a thoughtful, serious and deeply human play. For the instantiation of a genuinely human story, the Redhouse’s A Man of No Importance is worth seeing.