A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE By Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, directed by Lezlie Wade (Acting Up). At the Berkeley Street Theatre Upstairs (26 Berkeley). To March 22. $21-$35. 416-368-3110. Rating: NN
Acting up stage theatre claims it’s devoted to producing intimate musical theatre and fostering a new generation of audiences. Its latest show, A Man Of No Importance, is intimate to the point of lulling, and it’s hard to imagine anyone but musical queens being interested in seeing it staged.
Adapted from a tiny 1995 Albert Finney movie by theatrical veterans Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), the show is set in 1960s Dublin, where middle-aged trolley conductor Alfie (Douglas E. Hughes) lives a pinched life with his single sister (Patty Jamieson).
Closeted, Catholic and secretly in love with a co-worker, Alfie’s only passion is quoting Oscar Wilde and mounting amateur productions of Wilde’s plays in a church hall.
When a mysterious young woman steps onto his bus one day, he imagines her as Wilde’s Salome, which he soon sets out to direct, shaking up the town’s morals and resulting in some inevitable revelations about sexual secrets.
Director Lezlie Wade wrings lots of charm out of the show-within-a-show premise, and the actors enjoy hamming it up for the sake of theatuh. More subtlety’s needed, however, to sell the saccharine central story, which would have been dated two decades ago.
The show works best when it hints at other worlds, such as when Alfie’s mancrush (the solid-voiced Kyle Blair) takes him on a tour of Dublin’s bars and you see a bit of counterculture spirit contrasting with Alfie’s Old World sensibilities.
A live band brings the unpretentious Irish-inflected score to life, and Wade suggests a lot with Robin Fisher’s spare set of a few tables and chairs.