Sometimes a musical gives you a terrific slice of local talent, with inspired staging, and unfailing enthusiasm to smooth over any rough bits. That’s Pride Films and Plays’ production of “A Man of No Importance” in a nutshell: an industrial boiler of a show, delivering warmth and humor enough to combat the wildest Chicago polar vortex. The production is set to extend for one more week until Sunday, November 17th.
Director Donterrio Johnson and music director Robert Ollis have amassed a sprawling cast, and highlighted their vocal and instrumental idiosyncrasies to lovely effect. The stage never feels crowded, the pace is never slow; and in an intimate venue, with performers within a hair’s breadth of the audience, you rarely see the seams of this musical. Not every song is a barn-burner, and not every stage conceit rings true, but there’s enough charm in this staging to wipe the slate.
Alfie (Ryan Lanning) is a repressed bus conductor, feeling increasingly out of place in early sixties Dublin. He can anchor a mildly talented/ultra-enthusiastic theater troupe, deflect his sister Lily’s (Kimberly Lawson, u/s) concerns, assure Father Kenny (Ian Rigg) his production of “Salome” won’t cause the church controversy, even cast his leading lady, Adele (Ciera Dawn), sight unseen. No sweat. But Alfie is terrified by his own desires in a way he can’t share with anyone. His fondness for affable bus driver Robbie (Nick Arceo), coupled with a crippling obsession with Oscar Wilde, could be the perfect storm to permit Alfie the boldness to love who he really wants.
“A Man of No Importance” is not without some pitfalls from the 2002 Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty, and Terrence McNally libretto. We’re treated to a few unsatisfying musical tangents and moments of small town bigotry that grind proceedings to a halt. There’s also something off about an apparition of Oscar Wilde (Kevin O’Connell) who should be a more haunting presence, but blends in too well with actual bodies onstage to evoke the right sense of foreboding/inviting. Script issues aside, the principal and supporting cast are a diverse, joyful and well oiled machine. As Lily Bryne, understudy Kimberly Lawson lets loose with pithy zingers, painting Alfie’s sister as a proud curmudgeon that doesn’t soften so much as find a new direction for her ire. As bus driver Robbie Faye, Nick Arceo is open and freewheeling, but with a modicum of slippery added in for anyone asking the wrong questions about his personal life.
If it’s brilliance you want, look no further than Ciera Dawn as Adele Rice, another adept secret-keeper so steeped in anger and forboding for the future, that you feel her surprise at meeting people that embrace her wholeheartedly. Ryan Lanning’s Alfie Byrne is compelling beyond anything. It’s the smile with pain at the corners, the posture that hides him in an oncoming rush of wool coats, or the look of absolute panic when he’s sure you can see right through him. I feel the same knee-jerk protectiveness about Lannings’ Alfie that I usually reserve for adorable Pixar creatures; if anyone hurts him in the slightest, I will cry a bathtub of tears. The concept that “A Man of No Importance” traffics in is simple; queerness cannot be a tragedy or a tool of exclusion. In the right community, queerness makes you even more necessary.
DICE RATING: d12 –– “Heckuva Good Show“
TEN WORD SUMMARY: It’s never too late for a charming Irish sexual awakening.
Show: “A Man of No Importance”
Company: Pride Films & Plays
Venue: Pride Arts Center (4139 N Broadway)