‘A Man of No Importance’ at Greenbelt Arts Center is a theater lover’s dream

It could be a while before something of this caliber will be available to enjoy in the intimate community theater setting any time soon.

Sometimes a community production is so good you forget it’s community theater. That’s the case with the current hit production of A Man of No Importance at Greenbelt Arts Center.

No need to brush up or revisit Oscar Wilde’s Woman of No Importance — it’s a totally different show and premise. The spirit of Wilde is alive and well with references throughout, but the story is about Alfie Byrne, an affable ticket taker on a Dublin neighborhood bus in the 1960s who is obsessed with theater, particularly Oscar Wilde.

Alfie stamps tickets by day but by night he’s a theater enthusiast who runs his own St. Imelda Players on church premises on the side. Alfie loves theater and is so steeped in all things Wilde that he recites poetry to passengers en route. Having already performed The Importance of Being Earnest multiple times (but who’s counting? A serious Dubliner can’t get enough of Earnest), Alfie is determined to push his troupe to new heights and tackle the more somber and controversial Salome. Just as he struggles to find the perfect actress for the Princess role, theater luck strikes, and in walks Adele Rice, a newcomer to the route.

AnnaBelle Lowe as Adele Rice and Stephen Foreman as Alfie Byrne in ‘A Man of No Importance.’ Photo by Anthony Rivera.

The show is a theater lover’s dream showcasing the role of theater for hardworking everyday people. Exhausted after a full day of labor, the hardy Dubliners are just as committed to an obligatory pint in the pub. After quick weekly confessions at mass, they’re ready to start the routine all over again. Alfie’s enthusiasm lights up their dreary lives — the creative samplings they offer to “interpret” Salome in the first rehearsal are hilarious. Soon, however, secrets emerge to explain Alfie’s constant lack of a girlfriend, lives begin to crumble, and a fledging theater is the last thing on anybody’s mind as Alfie and his family are pitched into survival mode. Alfie’s life trajectory veers perilously close to the devastation of Oscar Wilde, and we start to find out the shifting parameters of A Man of No Importance. Only a top-tier theater company could pull this off and the Greenbelt Arts Center is up to the task.

Stephen Foreman as Alfie is stunning with a gentle smile, strong, sonorous vocals, and the endearing appeal of former television late-night host James Corden, another song-and-dance man. Other standouts include Brian Monsell as William Carney (and specter of Oscar Wilde) with a voice that booms to the rafters. He is matched by Diane Alonso as Alfie’s devoted sister Lily. Their duet rendition of “Books” is a delight.

AnnaBelle Lowe plays Adele, cast as the perfect Salome once Alfie convinces and coaxes her to try her hand on stage. Not only does Lowe sing like an angel, but she has a dual role as Mrs. Patrick where she shows even more of her range and depth as a performer. The multitalented Ryan Kieft as Robbie maintains a hulking presence as the bus driver and is the unexpected object of Alfie’s hidden affection.

Through it all, it’s Alfie’s story that’s at the center while the characters grapple with the cascading impact of this “man of no importance” and his effect on their lives. Alfie is thrust into figuring out who he really is, and on a sudden impulse lets down his guard for a brief moment. In the restrictive social environment, that’s all it takes to capsize his well-ordered world. Foreman’s rendition of Alfie’s plummet from societal graces to the devastating consequences of acting on “the love that dare not speak its name” (nod to Wilde) is captivating.

TOP: Brian Monsell (William Carney/Oscar Wilde) and Diane Alonso (Lily Byrne); ABOVE: Ryan Kieft (Robbie Fay), Stephen Foreman (Alfie Byrne), Clark Elliott (Breton Beret), and John Sheldon (James Michael ‘Baldy’ O’Shea), in ‘A Man of No Importance.’ Photos by Anthony Rivera.

Julia Arbutus directs the bountiful cast through the fun musical interludes and raucous gatherings, whether the cast is milling around the neighborhood, lined up for events, rehearsing, sitting on the bus, or at mass — everyone moves with clarity and purpose, quite a feat for a large ensemble. Costumes by Giuliana Weiss help establish the individual characters as well as the gritty Irish setting. As if he weren’t busy enough, mega-talented Foreman also designed the set where a mock yet functional stage framed with cardboard draped curtains sits ever present in the back rear.

The first-rate orchestra, music director Johanna Alonso, is a treat to enjoy, opening with a lovely reeds rendition of “Cliffs of Dover” to set the stage and tone.

The musical, based on a 1994 film, opened in 2002 and was revived recently on Broadway featuring Jim Parsons and Mare Winningham. With music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terrence McNally, it could be a while before something of this caliber will be available to enjoy in the intimate “community” setting any time soon. In my book, it’s worth the trip to Greenbelt to catch.

Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

A Man of No Importance plays through May 4, 2024 (Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:00 PM), at the Greenbelt Arts Center in the historic Roosevelt Community Center, located at 123 Centerway, Greenbelt, MD. Tickets ($27 General Admission; $24 Senior/Military; $14 Child/Student) may be purchased online. For more information, phone the box office at 301-441-8770 or email [email protected].

The program for A Man of No Importance is online here.

COVID Safety: Masks are optional except masking is required during the April 28 matinee.

CONTENT WARNING: A Man of No Importance contains depictions and themes of violence and homophobia and includes slurs and strong language that may be upsetting to some viewers.

A Man of No Importance

Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Julia Arbutus

CAST (In Order of Appearance)
Stephen Foreman: Alfie Byrne
Gregory Young: Fr. Kenny, others
Emily Broom: Mrs. Margaret Grace
Sophie Cooper: Miss Oona Crowe
Lindsey Miller: Mrs. Maureen Curtin/Kitty Farrelly
John Lynch: Ernie Lally
Ed Vilade: Carson/Rasher Flynn
John Sheldon: James Michael “Baldy” O’Shea
Giuliana Weiss: Sully O’Hara
Clark Elliott: Breton Beret/Peter
Diane Alonso: Lily Byrne
Brian Monsell: William Carney/Oscar Wilde
Ryan Kieft: Robbie Fay
AnnaBelle Lowe: Adele Rice/Mrs. Patrick

Julia Arbutus: Director
Johanna Alonso: Music Director
Allison Salach: Stage Manager, Light Board Operator
Katherine Knott: Stage Manager
Stephen Foreman: Set Designer, Fight Choreographer
Mark Robinson: Lighting Designer
AnnaBelle Lowe: Makeup & Wig Consultant
Giuliana Weiss: Costume Designer
Talia Trunk: Props Master
Bentley Corbett-Wilson: Pit Director
Will Murphy: Intimacy Director
Erin Ardunay: Run Crew

Sian MacAdam: Producer
Wes Dennis: Producer

Rich Miller: Piano
Jacob Kidder: Piano, April 14
Oscar Velasco: Reed
Katie Acheson: Bass
Lizzie Acheson: Violin
Bobby Potter: Guitar


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