A Man Of No Importance scores high at the Gladstone

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Patrick Whitfield

It’s a pity that A Man Of No Importance is having such a brief run at The Gladstone, given that it is such a touching yet ultimately joyous experience.

Indie Women Productions have delivered a stand-out production of this award-winning 2003 Broadway musical about a lonely gay Dublin bus conductor who worships the works of Oscar Wilde.

It is a lovely, lovely show, graced by a solid acting ensemble headed by the ever reliable Shaun Toohey as Alfie Byrne, the amiable good-hearted transit man who’s given to entertaining his passengers with recitations of poetry during their daily transport.

A Man Of Importance began as a 1994 film starring Albert Finney as Alfie. Its transformation into a stage musical proves to be remarkably successful, thanks to an observant, witty and at times emotionally wrenching book from Terrence McNally, who is far more at home with this subject matter than he was with Catch Me If You Can, the show recently mounted in Ottawa by Orpheus. And the beguiling songs, which arise naturally from the dramatic material and run a gamut of emotions, are supplied by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, the proven team who gave us Ragtime.

Maxim David, a youthful director new to Ottawa audiences, is working with a virtually bare stage — its primary prop a gas-lit street light. But his quietly assured production, viewed by this writer at its final preview, succeeds in opening up a very real world to us. It’s the world of Dublin in the 1960s — in many ways, a simple cloistered world in which the Church holds sway, in which Alfie’s exotic tastes in cooking (pasta, for example!) intimidate his staid and conservative sister, in which a sudden energetic burst of step-dancing can assume its own natural spontaneity — also one in which the very existence of a love that dares not speak its name can scarcely be acknowledged.

Alfie runs a community theatre group devoted to the works of his beloved Oscar, but in this play he’s brooking scandal by seeking to mount a production of Wilde’s notorious Salome — indeed only the kind of innocent dreamer so beautifully portrayed by Toohey would be so naive in failing to recognize the perils of rehearsing such a play in the basement of the local Roman Catholic Church.

Salome’s funny-sad progress towards its inevitable annihilation offers one dramatic thread. The other one has to do with the process of self-understanding that Alfie undergoes. It leads to one single and anguished moment of brutality, staged here with stark effectiveness. It seems to bring Alfie’s life crashing down — but only momentarily, because ultimately this is a piece about the healing nature of love and friendship.

Toohey’s nuanced work as Alfie takes this forlorn but ultimately brave human being through his necessary arc — he’s a man who, in middle age, has still failed to comprehend the real nature of his sexuality but is now forced to come to terms with it. But Toohey has also managed to bring off something else that can be tricky for any actor — a convincing portrait of a genuinely kind and good person.

There’s a small orchestra, under the direction of Paul Legault on one side of the stage, and it provides fluid interaction with the human comedy inherent in McNally’s script. The production is further bolstered by a succession of outstanding performances. Among them: Barry Daley — blustering and egotistical as the most conservative member of Alfie’s acting troupe; Arlene Watson, wonderful as Alfie’s uncomprehending but loving sister; Justice Tremblay, gentle and vulnerable as the novice actress struggling to give Alfie the Salome of his impossible dreams; Doug Thicke as the gentle local priest; Richard Cliff intensely moving as he mourns the loss of his wife with the tender song, The Cuddles Mary Gave.There’s also Ottawa’s impressively versatile Patrick Teed — on this occasion doing solid work as Alfie’s street-smart driver, Robbie and providing the evening with another of its musical highlights — an evocative rendition of The Streets Of Dublin.

In brief a treasure of an evening, and warmly recommended for anyone who cares about quality musical theatre.

 A Man of No Importance continues at the Gladstone to March 25. Tickets: 613 219 3489

 Director: Maxim David

Musical director: Paul Legault

Set: Lynda Cronin

Sound: Mark Tye

Lighting: David Magladry

Costumes: Melanie Evans

Cast:

Alfie Byrne………………………………………………………………Shaun Toohey

Father Kenny/Carson…………………………………………………….Doug Thicke

Mrs. Grace/Kitty…………………………………………………………Julie Racicot

Miss Crowe………………………………………………………………Clarissa Fortin

Miss Curtin………………………………………………………………Sarah Olberg

Baldy…………………………………………………………………….Richard Cliff

Sully O’Hara……………………………………………………………..Scott Lemoine

Ernie Lally……………………………………………………………….Ahmad Al-Qadi

Mrs. Patrick………………………………………………………………Beki Lantos

Breton Beret/Peter………………………………………………………..Drake Evans

Lily Byrne………………………………………………………………..Arlene Watson

William Carney/Oscar Wilde…………………………………………….Barry Daley

Robbie Fay……………………………………………………………….Patrick Teed

Adele Rice……………………………………………………………….Justice Tremblay

Orchestra

Conductor/keyboard…………………………………………………….Paul Legault

Guitars…………………………………………………………………..Neil Bateman

Reed…………………………………………………………………….Brian Boggs

Violin…………………………………………………………………Galina Rezaelpour

Cello…………………………………………………………………….Sandra Allan

 


Past Reviews