Review: Front Porch Theatricals’ ‘A Man of No Importance’

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Oscar Wilde

By MAC Hoover

The Celtic cross is a Christian symbol of a traditional cross with a nimbus or ring featured. The symbolism of a circle features predominantly in the season’s opening production for Front Porch Theatricals’ A Man of No Importance, playing now through May 29 at the New Hazlett Theater.

The play itself is a play within a play. It begins with the cancellation of the play Salome, a production written by Oscar Wilde that has a history. It is ostensibly performed by the Saint Imelda’s players, a community of friends who share a love of the stage. “Salome” is directed by Alfie Byrne (Allan Snyder), a busman who is navigating through life with a passion for the writings of Oscar Wilde. The setting is Dublin, Ireland, in 1964. The play also ends there, having come “full circle” with a message of love, hope, and acceptance.

The musical cleverly weaves the circle theme in sparse but effective sets. Umbrellas, when opened, became tires, and spools became tables and seats and were quickly to complete the illusion. The church basement auditorium serves as the backdrop for the performance. The brilliant orchestra captained by Deana Muro (a gem in her own right) is housed behind the curtains. Kudos to Johnmichael Bohach. Less is indeed more.

Robyne Parrish directs this production of A Man of No Importance. She is a force of nature who can act, direct, produce, write, teach and mentor. Her talents are certainly not wasted here, and her vision of this production is one to be proud of. The casting is superb, with one small distraction.

You can feel the love and the camaraderie from the entire cast. They play well off each other. Despite the heavy subject matter, there are moments of comedic genius, particularly from the circle of female supporting roles. Ashley Harmon (Mrs. Curtain) is the enthusiastic dance artist, Becki Toth (Lily), the hilarious long-suffering sister of Alfie, and the love interest of the butcher, Carney playerd by Brady Patsy. Katy Shackleton Williams is the self-important matron and watercolorist of the group (Mrs. Grace). Adele Rice (Clementine Wurzbach) is the newcomer welcomed to Saint Imelda’s, She is a waif-like young working girl cast as Salome by Alfie.

The male leads are brilliant. I cannot say enough about the nuanced performance of Allan Snyder as Alfie Byrne, the man of no importance with a heart of gold in a community of ritual. Alfie’s love of art and passion for the writing of Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde is deep and all-consuming as he begins to understand and embrace his true nature. Snyder’s singing voice is pure and perfect for this role. David Toole is his bus driver/friend, Robbie, who is amazing when he sings. Robbie becomes a reluctant addition to the St. Imelda’s players. But to Alfie, he’s never far away.

I only have one decision about the cast that I found unusual and distracting. Corwin Stoddard was wonderful in his three roles as Peter, Oscar Wilde, and Carson. The decision to dress him in Frankenstein boots as he channeled Oscar Wilde left me scratching my head. I know Oscar Wilde was tall, but to the average audience member… I’m not sure it mattered. I held my breath with each step he took, especially when he walked off stage, cane notwithstanding, it was unsettling.

The sound was not quite right at the beginning of the production; it was harsh and echoey. It did seem to improve as the performance continued, and I was glad of it as the accents were challenging enough to navigate.

All in all, A Man of No Importance is a lovely play with book by Terrance McNally. The music and lyrics were by Pittsburgh’s own Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (not from da burgh).

A Man of No Importance is a labor of love from the whole Front Porch company. The dedication of this tenth season to Leon Zionts is a beautiful sentiment that would likely have made him proud.

The community of Front Porch Theatricals is not unlike the Saint Imelda’s players. It is a circle of love. The people in front of and behind the curtain work together, with acceptance and care, to deliver high-quality theater to a genuinely appreciative Pittsburgh audience.

For tickets andmore information visit: https://newhazletttheater.org/events/a-man-of-no-importance/

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