A.J. Shively and Jim Parsons (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)
A Man of No Importance
love who you love,” Alfie Byrne, a middle-aged bus conductor in 1963 Dublin
explains to a friend. Alfie is making a philosophical statement, but quietly
underscores the “love that dare not speak its name.” Yet in his specific
circumstances, given the religious and social repressions of the time, the line
is particularly poignant.
played with gentle restraint by Jim Parsons, best known for The Big Bang
Theory, is a deeply closeted man boasting two passions: directing
productions of the St. Imelda Players’ amateur theater group and Oscar Wilde.
He wrestles with his small-minded conservative Irish world, forever hoping to
invoke his hero’s mantra: “The best way to resist temptation,” said Wilde, “is
to yield to it.”
off-Broadway at the Classic Stage Company, the musical A Man of No
Importance posits serious themes, but delivers them as drama lite. The
violence and anger that inevitably accompanies a world of sexual and political
repression is staged with minimalism by director John Doyle.
revival of the 2002 musical, an adaption of the 1994 movie, is based on a book
by Terrence McNally with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics Lynn Ahrens, the trio
responsible for Ragtime. Importance also boasts a Doyle trademark:
Actors play musical instruments on stage.
is something touching about a group of ordinary people for whom theater is both
distraction and salvation, evident in the stirring number “Going Up.” But Alfie
takes it a step further. His latest endeavor, The Importance of Being
Earnest, was a bust, so he decides to produce Wilde’s often-banned play Salomé.
encourages Adele (Shereen Ahmed), a country girl who has escaped to Dublin, to
play his female lead. They form an emotional bond as outsiders, tacitly
acknowledging that those who profess to uphold societal values often prefer
cruelty to compassion.
provocative show — intimations of sex, John the Baptist’s head on a plate —
proves too much for the parish priest and the church council, which threatens
to ban it and the use of the church hall.
Parsons (Photo: Julia Cervantes)
the same time, Alfie’s desire for his co-driver Robbie (A.J. Shively) bubbles
to the surface, forcing him to acknowledge his own desires — with predicably
speaks to audiences is the desire to censor a work deemed controversial and to
obliterate someone for being different. Alfie is a sweet man whose enthusiasm
for theater is infectious. He looks for color in a drab world. He hopes for a
moment of artistic transcendence — even on a Dublin bus. Alfie sees purpose in
ideas and values passion, but he fails to see how vicious the bigotries and
myopia of Mr. Carney (Thom Sesma), the butcher and church council head, can be.
Carney who professes to be enamored of the theater, remains imprisoned by his
own pettiness and intolerance.
doesn’t deliver the pathos Albert Finney did in the film version, but he does
allow audiences to witness the pain of a bifurcated life. His loneliness is exacerbated
by his sister (Mare Winningham), an insular woman defined by church and
society. Dismissive of his literary and culinary efforts, she prays for her
brother to find the right girl. Like most of Alfie’s world, including the
friendly riders he entertains with poetry and prose on their journeys, she is
oblivious to the inner man.
and Whittingham deliver their numbers well and though Parson doesn’t possess
their singing chops, his Alfie does evoke Thoreau’s line: “Most men lead lives
of quiet desperation and go the grave with the song still in them.”
are some moving ballads here, while Doyle’s bare staging — a desk, a few chairs
— illustrates the bleak, unfulfilled lives the characters lead. A strong
ensemble deftly delivers that message.
is cast as a man of no importance, but his dreams and aspirations suggest that
what is important is a full life, where everyone, if only for a few hours on
stage, has a chance to soar. The terrible consequences of preventing such
flights may be this thoughtful musical’s most important lesson.
Man of No Importance,
CSC, 136 East 13 Street, through Dec. 18
time: 105 minutes, no intermission