Phoenix Stage Company, Oakville: How easy it is today to take our acceptance of homosexuality for granted. Whether actors or NFL players now announce their homosexuality it is taken in stride. There is no moral outrage. However, it wasn’t so long ago when men who loved with a love “that dare not speak its name” suffered greatly. The recently concluded Phoenix Stage Company production of A Man of No Importance poignantly reminded us of how difficult it must have been for homosexuals who had to “closet” their true feelings as well as their own selves.
In A Man of No Importance it is Dublin, 1964, when we meet an Irish bus conductor, Alfie Byrne. Alfie holds dear the works of Oscar Wilde who was imprisoned as a homosexual for indecency. Alfie is also passionate about art, especially theater, and he recruits actors for his amateur theater group on his bus. Alfie is gay and holds his affection for bus driver Robbie in check. He wants Robbie to star in his production of Salome in the local church hall. When a new passenger, a pretty young girl, steps onto the bus, Alfie is certain he has found his Salome. His sister Lily is thrilled that a young girl has finally caught his attention, but in spite of her efforts to match them up, Alfie doesn’t have any romantic inclinations towards the girl. He puts all his feelings into the poems and passages that he reads to the passengers and puts his heart in his rehearsals.
Even there he runs into problems. The church will not allow him to present Salome in the church hall because it has been deemed a “dirty” play. Alfie and his cast insist it is art, but to no avail.
Donna Storms did a terrific job directing this large cast of various degrees of talent with not more than a few chairs and a small table or two. She moved the actors around purposefully and staged the performance deftly. Music Director Maurice Steinberg led the wonderfully talented musicians in smart numbers by Stephen Flaherty with a proper dash of the Irish. Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics worked well in this masterful play by Terrence McNally, which is based on the movie of the same title.
It will be difficult to imagine anyone other than Ed Bassett playing Alfie after seeing this production. He immersed himself in the role genuinely and entirely and took full control of the stage whenever he was on it, which was almost always. Jane Coughlin as Lily delivered another one of her outstanding performances as did Ian Diedrich as Robbie. Chuck Stango and Jeff Savage showed their prowess on the stage with Stango’s strong performance and Savage’s sensitive treatment of his solo.
Leah Nashel is a new name to watch for. She played the young girl with an uncanny sense of mystery about her. Nashel has the charisma and simpatico to deliver a most memorable performance. She knows just how much to pull on the heart strings. Brian Elser played multiple roles very well and Kathy Cook, Deb Diamante, Tony Enright and Deborah Goodman made the most of their moments in the spotlight. Also contributing to the success of this show were: Bill Knight, Aric Martin, Leland Schick, Denise Skelton, Glory Smith and Beth Steinberg.
A Man of No Importance is a fine play with an important message about bias and friendship. That this was a community theater production made it all the more an exceptionally fine piece of art. Next up is The Mystery of Irma Vep, which Ed Bassett will direct, opening Oct. 8. Box office: 860-417-2505
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]