Regional Reviews: St. Louis
A Man of No Importance
Also see Richard's recent review of Guys and Dolls
Otherwise, director and Artistic Director Christina Rios has gathered together an outstanding cast (and a terrific band), for the R-S Theatrics production of the 2002 musical (based on a 1994 film), and the worst of the audio imbalance will probably be short-lived. Terrence McNally wrote the libretto, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, about a stage-struck young man in Dublin, thrown into crises over a production of Oscar Wilde's Salome, and his own simultaneous coming-out experience.
It's 1964 and Alfie (Mark Kelley) is a young closeted gay director who also has a secret love for a co-worker at his regular job. Alfie, by day, is the conductor on a bus, and Robbie (Kellen Green) is his bus driver. We lose about 80% of Mr. Kelley's singing in the lush music, while Mr. Green (who has apparently recognized the sound problem on his own) seems to hurl his lyrics back at the musicians like an Irish tauntas if the band occupying stage-right were a newly arrived phalanx of British soldiers, waiting to bash his skull.
On top of that, I get impatient watching "coming out" stories. I feel embarrassed that we're wasting time, as the average heterosexual theatergoer doesn't need to be preached at, and most of these type of stories are broadly the same: gay boy meets self; gay boy loses self; gay boy finds self. And, for better or worse, we have a lot of newer issues to deal with now in the twenty-first century. But A Man of No Importance becomes important, if only because of the accretion of all the highly talented performers on stage.
In A Man of No Importance we also get a very subtle, laudable examination of the evolution of parochial thinking and sacrifice, and ultimately a soft-hearted reconciliation that proves the value of this Catholic community's backwater spiritual life after all. It's a finely crafted meta-story, the psychological adjustment of all the people around Alfie, that develops in an almost entirely unspoken, or unsung, manner, thanks to director Rios.
Well, I assume it's all done unspoken, this broadening psychological evolution of the neighborhood. When you can't hear the words, it's hard to tell. It's like watching a foreign filmyou have to go by what you're seeing, even more than when you can understand the language (I was frantically trying to read lips this night). Thank goodness all the subtext is visible and physically modulated by these performers. And by the time you read this, the audio problem will likely be modulated as well. But these were the facts of opening night.
There are probably at least three centuries of combined experience on stage, not counting the band. Kent Coffel is great singing of his late wife in "The Cuddles Mary Gave," and Stephanie Merritt is outstanding as Alfie's put-upon unmarried sister. Nancy Nigh, another very strong actress, gets one of the show's genuine big laughs, as she converts Salome's "dance of the seven veils" into a tap number.
In terms of overall design, the presentation also could be a little more visually relevant, at least for Alfie in his dilemma. He could be visually trapped in tight little frames of light, till the final broad-minded scenes at the end. The staging is now wide open, set against a backdrop of costume racks filled with bright clothing and a wall of floppy hats. But the songs are often unimaginative or obvious (what we can hear of them), and I doubt symbolic lighting or a volume adjustment would help that much.
Beyond the lovely, symbolic consciousness raising that delicately unfolds on stage, there is a another kind of social justice that's also fulfilled, simply by bringing in shows we've never seen in town before. And usually it works great, as the business model of this fine company. R-S Theatrics begins its 11th season in December, with Daphne's Dive.
A Man of No Importance, through August 25, 2019 at the Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive (just east of Circus Flora, and Powell Symphony Hall), St. Louis MO. There is a guarded, fenced parking lot. For more information visit www.r-stheatrics.com.