Theater Review: A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE (Coronado Playhouse in San Diego)

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by Tony Frankel on August 18, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Unlike manipulative Broadway machines such as Priscilla and Kinky Boots, which shove issues down our throats, the societal consequences for a homosexual in A Man of No Importance resonate more because the story follows a closeted man who compensates for his restrictive 1964 Dublin atmosphere by taking pride in other areas of his life — namely an amateur theater company and his job as a bus conductor. Terrence McNally’s book for this 2002 Off-Broadway chamber musical eschews his normally flamboyant and proud gay characters (Love! Valor! Compassion!Lips Together, Teeth ApartThe Lisbon Traviata) for the soft-spoken Alfie Byrne, whose dream is to stage Oscar Wilde’s Salome at a neighborhood church with his St. Imelda Players, most of whom ride his bus every day.

Middle-aged Alfie exhibits stereotyped qualities of a gay man — passivity, a passion for cooking and the arts, a fanaticism for Wilde — but this story, based on the 1994 Albert Finney film of the same name, is not about a gay man; it’s about a man who happens to be gay. It’s a powerful distinction which allows composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (RagtimeOnce on This Island) to concentrate on universal themes in songs such as “The Burden of Life,” “Man in the Mirror,” and “Love Who You Love.”

To aid the universality of the show, the many well-rounded characters who may disapprove of Alfie’s orientation are never drawn as villainous. From Alfie’s sister, Lily — who has delayed her marriage with a church authority, Mr. Carney, until her brother has married — to Father Kinney, who deems Salome blasphemous and cancels the play at the musical’s onset, they all also struggle with their own issues of morality, self-expression, and religious intolerance.

At Coronado Playhouse, the somewhat  low-budget trappings only serve to heighten the realities of a destitute group of citizen-thespians. Marcene Drysdale’s costumes look as though they were purchased at the Lord & Taylor Country Clothes Shop circa the late 50s, which makes sense when most characters are no doubt too poor to buy anything but hand-me-downs.

Vander Turner’s twinkly eyes, disarming manner, and lilting voice would have anyone fall in love with Alfie’s secret crush, the bus driver Robbie. Jennie Gray Connard combines strength and vulnerability as sister Lily. Michael Van Allen is perfectly self-effacing in both voice and character as the Players’ member, Baldy; a ballad sung at his wife’s grave — “The Cuddles Mary Gave” — is perfectly bittersweet and enchanting at the same time. Lovely soprano Kylie Young is captivating as Adele, the newcomer with a secret who Alfie knows in an instant must play Salome. Ralph Johnson never plays the heavy as the ultra-religious Carney; because he is simply a man with staunch ethics, and not a meany, we never dislike him; as such, “Books,” the song in which he postulates with Lily as to why Alfie is single, is a hoot. And you won’t get a tearful, shame-filled performance from Barron Henze as Alfie; he satisfies not from hyper-theatrics, but a rich inner life that results in delicate but nonetheless stunning nuances.

Manny Bejarano is my kind of director, one who can use an empty space with some chairs and a table to create a church, a bus, a bar, an Irish hovel, and more. The casting is magical, as the stage is filled with distinctive personalities, most of whom perfectly execute a range of Irish dialects (coaching by Vanessa Dinning). Some of the actors have amateur voices, which only lends authenticity to the community theater portrayed here. And wait until you hear the band, perfectly-suited for this Celtic brew and led by Music Director Kirk Valles, whose conducting was as graceful as the show’s tuneful ballads.

The production isn’t flawless, but aside from sound issues, a few green actors, and reprehensible sightlines (the table seating means patrons block each other’s view), it’s brimming over with love. Sure ‘n’ begorrah, this lovely show will put a twinkle in yer eye.

photos by Ken Jacques

A Man of No Importance
Coronado Playhouse
1835 Strand Ave. in Coronado
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on August 26, 2018
for tickets, call 619.435.4856 or visit Coronado Playhouse

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