Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Man of No Importance is a Nice Little Chamber Piece Musical with an Irish Beat

Also see Richard's reviews of The Time of Your Life and The Carpetbagger's Children

The New Conservatory Theatre Center is currently presenting the West Coast premiere of the Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, Terrence McNally musical A Man of No Importance, which is based on the 1994 Albert Finney film. Being Irish, this film was one of my favorites that year and I still have fond recollections of Mr. Finney playing the middle aged Irish bus driver with the handsome Rufus Sewell driving the city bus. I really did not know how they could make such a delicate film into a musical; however, McNally, Flaherty and Ahrens have fashioned more of a play with music with sixteen songs in the two and one half hour period.

This score is pleasant, with a mixture of Irish folk, music hall type songs, plus gospel and mock showbiz jazz. The songs are tidily knit together with McNally's book. As usual, the playwright has a liberal number of funny jokes, such as Alfie saying to the priest: "Didn't you ever want to go on the stage father?" and the priest replying, "I do, every Sunday. It's called High Mass." There are also liberal Oscar Wilde epigrams sprinkled about the drama such as "The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it."

The title of the musical is a play on words of a little known Oscar Wilde drama of 1893 called "A Woman of No Importance." The play was revived in New York in 1916 where it ran for 56 performances. The current musical premiered at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre in New York in 2002 where it received mixed reviews. Michael Sommers of the Newark Star-Ledger said, "The latest and frequently lovely piece is an exceptionally well crafted musical in practically every way." Many thought the musical would have a life of its own when it closed in New York. That appears to be the case, since regional companies are picking up the appealing musical.

The Man of No Importance follows the screenplay very closely. It is the story of inconspicuous, middle aged Irish bus conductor Alfie (Arthur Scappaticci) in 1964 Dublin. He is single, a closet homosexual living at home with his unmarried spinster sister. He has two passions; he is a lover of Oscar Wilde's plays and poems and he has a lust for his good looking straight bus driver mate Robbie (Levi Damlone). Alfie also directs an amateur theatrical company featuring Wilde's plays at his parish church, St. Imeidas. These plays run one to two nights only after the bingo games in the church hall. The amateur actors include an arch conservative Catholic butcher (who believes he makes a great "Ernest"), a housewife, a retired publican, and a strict elderly woman who finally will do play anything for "art." These "actors" have more heart than skill.

Alfie has decided to stage Oscar Wilde's Salome, which is going to cause him big trouble with the church. The church catches wind of this "denigrating play" during rehearsals and closes the play down. After this humiliation, poor Alfie decides to go out to seek a homosexual encounter, and it ends in an almost tragic event.

Director George Quick has assembled fourteen actors, with some playing multiple roles. Quick maintains a nice flow with some of the scenes in the second act standing out in dramatic presentations. Most of the cast has fairly good Irish accents, although some let the accents slip into modern American English. Arthur Scappaticci (recently toured the bay area in My Gypsy and won a Dean Goodman Award last year for his solo performance in The Importance of Being Oscar) is very engaging in the role of Alfie. He has a nice light touch in his songs. Levi Damione (a new young actor who gave a great performance in NCTC's Thief River) plays the straight hunk Robbie. He gives a sympathetic performance, but he is not up to the Flaherty and Ahrens songs. His voice needs more training, especially when trying to override the six piece orchestra that becomes too loud in certain songs.

Shelley Lynn Johnson (NCTC's New Brain) as the spinster sister of Alfie is excellent in her role and presents a typical Irish middle aged lady who wants to see a continuation of the family name. One of the highlights of the musical is her duet with her secret lover, the butcher named Carney played by Paul Plain (many musical credits in Bay Area productions), the song "Books," which sounds like "Buooks" in an Irish dialect. Both are splendid in the song. Paul Plain also gives a rousing rendition of "Going Up" with the chorus. This is a paean to all of those actors in community theaters who give their all in productions throughout the land. Rayna Hickman is very good as the young ingénue Adela. She has a pleasing voice in "Love Who You Love." The rest of large cast gives good performances.

Cat Stevans, the set designer, does what he can with the small stage that has been made into a restricted church basement with a very tiny, almost too tiny, mock stage in the center background of the set. I doubt you could have more than two actors on that mock stage. The presidium stage has stained glass windows on the side and a top frame of the stage that shows various scenes of Dublin and the Wilde play Salome that are interesting. There is some Irish jig dancing at the beginning of the second act that is fun to watch. The only breakout song is The Streets of Dublin, which is nicely choreographed by George Quick. Somehow, I keep thinking of the "rainy London scene" in the old version of Jekyll and Hyde, the Wildhorn musical, when watching this scene.

A Man of No Importance runs through April 11 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness at Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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