A Man of No Importance
By: Joel Benjamin
Megan Opalinski, Eric Morris, Spencer Robinson, Charlie Owens,Adam
Kee, Eric William Love and Rachel Green in A Man of No Importance
(Photo credit: Bella Muccari)
The Gallery Players, part of the burgeoning theater community of Brooklyn, has mounted the lovely, moving musical A Man of No Importance in a detailed, finely tuned production. Its small, but well-equipped venue brings the audience right into the action. For this gem, the Gallery Players used every square inch of its space to present the panoply of life in Dublin, 1964, in which the ordinary man of the title, Alfie Byrne, a bus conductor, lives a closeted life with his spinster sister, Lily. Since he cannot openly express his longing for his young handsome bus driver colleague, Robbie, his only creative and emotional outlet is the local amateur theater troupe that he leads with gusto and not a small dose of pretention.
With a book by Terrence McNally based on the Albert Finney film and songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, A Man of No Importance is both a snapshot portrait of 1964 Dublin where the church still ruled with an iron, hypocritical fist, and a sad portrayal of Alfie’s frustrations and angst.
Alfie gallantly gathers his regular cast and crew to produce Oscar Wilde’s steamy biblical melodrama Salome, lacking only a Salome. On his bus he discovers Adele, a newcomer to Dublin, and brushing aside her protestations, enlists her into his theatrical community. Some of the musical’s best numbers involve his delightfully motley crew putting the production together, including “Going Up!” and “Art” which revel in the joy of working together on a show, uniting for the sake of Art. The colorful score ranges from anthems like “Going Up!” and “The Streets of Dublin” to touching ruminations like “Princess,” “Love’s Never Lost,” and the title song.
Alfie has to convince the priest of the church where the theater group meets that Salome is Art with a capital A and not smut. He nearly succeeds, but for the hypocritical machinations of the local butcher, Mr. Carney, who, along with being cast as Herod, is wooing romance-starved Lily. Carney embodies the stodgy morality of the time.
Otherwise, we are shown a beautifully drawn vision of Alfie’s drearily humdrum life at home with Lily who, in true Irish style, has sacrificed her life for her bachelor brother, as well as Alfie’s daily grind on the municipal bus where he pines for Robbie. In his mind, he is guided by the spirit of Oscar Wilde. When, out of sexual frustration, he dresses up as Wilde to meet men, violent retribution and condemnation result.
The Gallery Players have done themselves proud. As skillfully staged by Hans Friedrichs and Christine O’Grady, everyone on stage participates in the telling of the story, even the talented musicians of the band who wander about, sing and speak lines, increasing the feeling of community. In addition to acting and singing, members of the cast also play instruments
Everyone in the cast was terrific. They were all game, sang and acted well, and drew the audience into this tightly-knit world of Irish strivers.
As Alfie, Charlie Owens had a dignity that negated the shame he felt. He sang beautifully and was totally believable in his pretentiousness. It is easy to see this Alfie as the Pied Piper of Dublin’s amateur church basement theater. Renee Claire Bergeron’s Lily had weight and subtlety, never milking the pathos of her (self-imposed) loneliness. Julianne Katz as Adele could have sung more strongly, but her journey from lonely outsider to member of the troupe to bereft unmarried mother was portrayed with a gentle poignancy. Eric Morris as Alfie’s object of affection, Robbie, had depth and sensitivity and a beautiful light baritone. He was sexy, yet not overly macho.
The rest of the cast, equal partners in this production’s success, merit mentioning: Eric William Love, Eric Folks, Rachel Green, Megan Opalinski, Lorinne Lampert, John Weigand, Adam Kee, Spencer Robinson, Greg Horton (quite boo-worthy as the deceitful butcher), Katie Bruestle, Jake Mendes, Danny Randerson, and Sean Patrick Murtagh as the hovering figure of Wilde.
Julianne Merrill, conductor and pianist, managed to draw multiple textures from her small orchestra, doing Flaherty’s score proud.
Kate Rance’s scenery, Sarah Cogan’s costumes, Dan Jobbins’ atmospheric lighting and Daniel Heffernan’s projections gave the production its rich and believable ambience. They created the wonderfully detailed world in which the performers were able to get lost.
The Gallery Players is a company to watch with a great track record and ambitious plans that make for a growing and dedicated audience base.
A Man of No Importance (through February 19)
The Gallery Players
199 14th Street (between 4th & 5th Avenues), in Brooklyn
Tickets and Information: 212-352-3101 or http://www.galleryplayers.com
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