A Man of No Importance
It’s 1964 in Dublin, and Alfie Byrne (Mayes)—a single, middle-aged, Oscar Wilde–worshipping bus conductor who reads Wilde’s poetry to his admiring, loyal riders by day and directs them in church productions of Wilde’s plays by night—has a secret. It’s not terribly difficult to guess, with or without having seen the 1994 Albert Finney film on which Importance is based. But it is hard to fathom that neither his neighbors, his doting sister (Kolton) nor his partner on the job (an affable young hunk, played by Lanning, whom Alfie calls “Bosie” as he fixes him in longing gazes) have figured it out. Then again, no one here seems to know that Wilde was a poof, either.
From a slight source, this musical’s creators have crafted an even slighter show. In its desire to be too many things—comedy and tragedy, small-town portrait, love letter to the theater, issue play, Wilde tribute—it achieves none of them. Its timidity of purpose creates a timidity of presence. Flaherty’s featherweight score vanishes from memory almost immediately, while both Ahrens’s lyrics and McNally’s book are reduced to inanities. (“People can be hard sometimes.”)
Ferguson does what he can to redeem the material, though he’s hampered by less-than-perfect casting in the ensemble roles. The leads, however, are quite strong; Mayes sells even such ridiculous moments as Alfie’s Single White Female transformation into Wilde himself. Lanning, meanwhile, proves yet again he’s got leading-man chops that deserve exposure on a larger stage.