Regional Reviews: Boston
A Man of No Importance
"You just have to love who you love." In 1960s Dublin, the setting of our play, this lyric might have felt dangerous to overhear on the street: the harbinger of an increasingly widening morality across the globe. A Man of No Importance occupies this rapidly changing era when the Catholic Church forbid divorce, unwed pregnancy was scandalousand homosexuality was criminalized. Hearing these words at the center of this musical resonates today, with the social progress that's come since and the battles many people still fight for acceptance.
Art is Alfie Bryne's very first love. Alfie, the man of the title, makes his living as a bus conductor, reciting Oscar Wilde to passengers while they ride through Dublin. He lives with his sister, Lily, and spends his evenings staging amateur productions of Oscar Wilde's plays at the local parish. But his latest playOscar Wilde's Salomestrikes some as too obscene, too provocative for their deeply religious community, and he must face the chance that the show won't go on. As his troupe embarks on Salome, Alfie finally has the courage to admit to himself a love of a more corporeal kindhis feelings for his bus driver, Robbie.
The show, written by Terrence McNally, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, is a charmer. Written in 2001, when "the love that dare not speak its name" was a story told less often, A Man of No Importance believes in the goodness of its leading mana man who, indeed, becomes of great importance to his amateur troupe of actors. The steps on Alfie's journey to self-acceptance feel familiar, and sometimes too pat; but there is real violence and anguish in his story, too. "These are confusing times," one of his troupe says, testifying before the church to shut down Salome. "You hear it in the news. You read it in the songs they play." But Alfie learns, when he finally opens up to his true self, there is tolerance in the world, too, and he has a place in it.
Nicholas Magierowski-Howe suits the role of Alfie Byrne beautifully. He has a slow, gentle gait, his shoulders stiff, like he's afraid to unburden himself of everything he's kept bottled up. And Magierowski-Howe also has a lovely singing voice, which he parses out over the show, careful not to oversing, until his final, full-out declaration that he's ready to join the world.
Director Daniel Morris directs an excellent ensemble, some doubling up on roles, and all conveying the humor and heart of the script. One or two actors slip into cartoonish Irish-isms, but most of the cast fits the gentle rhythm of Morris's understated production. As Robbiethe object of Alfie's eyeDan Prior carries "The Streets of Dublin," his crowd-pleasing anthem to embracing his town, with gusto. Dani Berkowitz is touching as Adele, a timid girl hiding secrets of her own, whom Alfie recruits from obscurity to star as his Salome. And Mary O'Donnell is sharp as Alfie's sister Lily, pulling off her tongue-tripping songs, at her best as she realizes how little she knows her brother. Steve Emanuelson, assistant director and dialect coach, deserves praise for helping his cast with their creditable Irish accents.
The show celebrates the ritual of the theater, and the sacred space that's created by a company and an audience. Morris's production is housed entirely on the main stage of the Wimberly Theatre, which we accessed through a side entrance like a hidden speakeasy. The six-piece band led by Meghan MacFadden welcomes the audience into the sweet lilt and rollicking energy of the story. And between the stage curtain and back wall of the theater, we watched this one man's dreams and heartbreaks unfold in the intimate space right before us. A Man of No Importance, especially at Bad Habit Productions, is worth loving.
A Man of No Importance is presented by Bad Habit Productions through August 28, 2016, at the Wimberly Theatre, Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA, 527 Tremont St, Boston, MA. Tickets are $21-30 and can be purchased at badhabitproductions.org, by phone through Boston Theater Scene at (617) 933-8600, or in person at the Calderwood Pavilion Box Office.