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Thursday Theatre Review: A Man of No Importance

Everyone has seen a movie made from a play. From Cabaret to A Few Good Men, Hollywood has long looked to the humble playwright for inspiration. But for some reason, this relationship sledom flows in reverse. The play-made-from-a-movie is a rare beast, due I think to the problems with taking the hermetic story-telling of a feature film and cramming it into the more dialogic conventions of live theatre.

Lucky for us, there is a solution to this problem: just add music! You'll seldom see a stage adaptation of a movie without people singing and jumping around. It's a formula that worked well in Monty Python's Spamalot, or recent Broadway smash Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. On the other hand, it also produced Lord of the Rings: The Musical. Tricky.

A Man of No Importance is another example of the 'movie + music = play' paradigm. I'm happy to report that, thanks to an excellent production by Acting Up Stage, it's both a pretty successful mapping of the 1994 film and an entertaining play. It may not be the most challenging piece of theatre, but it's a charming story well told by a talented cast.

The show is about Alfie Byrne, a kindly bus conductor in Dublin. He's a lonely man with an all-abiding passion for Oscar Wilde. When he attempts to stage Wilde's risque Salome, trouble begins with the local moral authorities. The conflict ultimately leads Alfie to reveal the secret at his troubled core. I won't give it away here, but it's the kind of thing the 1960s-era Catholic Church would get really bent out of shape about. Come to think of it, the 2008 Catholic Church wouldn't like it very much either, except now they'd throw in some blarney about polluting being a sin, just to to appear, you know, progressive.

It's a very sweet story, almost saccharine in some places. In fact, the whole show is so high-sucrose that even the moments of high drama have a kind of "aw, shucks" feeling to them. And while the villains of the story aren't exactly nice, they are still pretty mild. As it chugged towards its inevitable happy ending, the story struck me as the rough equivalent of vanilla pudding. Sweet, generally good, but pretty routine. Nobody is surprised or challenged by vanilla pudding anymore.

The creeping blandness of the script would be slightly problematic were it not for the cast. Douglas Hughes hits all the right notes as Alfie, both in his songs and with his character. Bethany Jillard also does a nice job, displaying some impressive vocal chops. I was a bit diasppointed that I didn't get to see more of Kyle Blair and Christopher Darroch. Blair has a great voice, and it's too bad he only got to show it off in one number. For his part, Darroch, who may be the lost love child of Rick Moranis, delivered some of the best comedic lines of the show.

Music is another strength of this production. The Celtic-inflected score was executed perfectly by the four musicians, and the cast all turned in impressive vocal performances. For a musical in an intimate space, without the benefit of mics and ProTools, the songs sounded clean, clear and expansive. I'm not generally a musical kind of guy, but I'm nto ashamed to admit the musical performances gave me goosebumps on a few occasions.

A Man of No Importance is a nicely done show. It has navigated the treacherous waters of movie-to-play adaptation and come out as a warm-hearted and well-performed musical. Sure, it may be a bit vanilla, but even the most avant-garde theatregoer needs a little pudding in their diet.

A Man of No Importance continues at the Berkeley Street Upstairs Theatre until March 22nd. For more information and tickets, please visit www.manofnoimportance.com.

Photo: Barrie Wood and Douglas E. Hughes.


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