Friday, February 10, 2012

A Man of No Importance

Sean Patrick Murtagh and
Charlie Owens
Photo: Bella Muccari
Seeing Off-Off-Broadway and community productions is a bit of a crap shoot. Quality ranges from superb to “what were they thinking?” Performances range from Tony worthy to “don’t quit your day job.” (Of course, these things are true on Broadway as well.) Financial limitations can elicit amazing theatrical creativity or really shabby production values. 

Over time, however, you learn which theatre troupes you can rely on. The Gallery Players in Brooklyn is one of those troupes. The people at the Gallery Players, a volunteer-run non-profit that utilizes both Equity and non-Equity talent, know how to make the most of what they have in honor of the shows they present. When I see a revival at the Gallery, I may briefly regret missing the original stars or the fancy scenery or the larger orchestra, but those regrets fade away in the enjoyment of the Gallery’s creative, solid, intimate presentations. These productions express  the feelings, the humor, the music, and the truth of the original shows. This is no small achievement.

The current production, A Man of No Importance, smartly directed by Hans Friedrichs, is flawed but lovely. It is the story of Alfie, a shy, innocent Irishman in the 1960s who collects fares on a bus and quietly loves the bus driver. Alfie also loves the arts, and he directs local productions of Oscar Wilde plays that are presented with dubious quality but great enthusiasm.

With book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the show is a joy to watch and to listen to, even though its story doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny. Could someone who has spent his life reading the works of Oscar Wilde really be as innocent of humanity’s foibles as Alfie? Would his friends and neighbors really respond to him the way they do? The show wants, I think, to be about real life, but it’s more of a fairy tale.

Any production of A Man of No Importance pivots on the performance of its Alfie, played here by Charlie Owens. Owens is perhaps too good looking for the part; I found it hard to believe that any number of gay men wouldn’t have volunteered to gently relieve him of his innocence years ago. Owens’ performance is not subtle enough to navigate the complexities (inconsistencies?) of the role, but he is a likeable presence. Renee Claire Bergeron as his sister nicely mines the humor and frustrations of her character. The cast in general is strong, and I thank them all for their attention to enunciating the dialogue and lyrics; the only thing that is more of a pleasure than to hear unmiked voices is to be able to understand what they are saying!

The six-person orchestra (ably led by musical director Julianne Merrill) is the right size for the space, and it is nicely supplemented on some numbers by cast members playing instruments as well.

 A Man of No Importance is playing through February 19th. It’s a real treat.

(press ticket; third row center-ish)

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