Arts » Theater

Closeted Dreams

Clever tunes overwhelm Beck Center's coming-out story.


There is probably no character type an audience can relate to more immediately than the repressed schnook. Penned in by societal norms and intimidated by the expectations of relatives and friends, an ordinary person will often just "go along to get along," indulging secret passions -- if he even has them -- only in safe and protected environments.

So it is for middle-aged Alfie, the fellow referred to in Beck Center's amusing but thematically limp A Man of No Importance. This musical adaptation of the Albert Finney movie shows how this bus-ticket-taker in 1964 Dublin expresses his lust for life through inoffensive amateur theatricals at St. Imelda Church. But this time, Alfie has loosened the rein on his libido and decided to mount a staging of Oscar Wilde's scandalous Salome.

Alfie is something of a Wilde child, reading snatches of the sensualist's poetry to his passengers and even communing with Oscar's ghost from time to time. And it becomes clear that Alfie shares a bit more with Wilde than thespian yearnings, since the well-closeted conductor has a serious crush on Robbie, the young and studly driver of his bus. (Even Lily, Alfie's sister and roommate, has no idea her brother is a poofter; she's intent on finding him a good woman, so that she can get on with her life.)

There are certainly rich veins of character to mine in this story, and the cast does a splendid job of presenting the material. But the book by Terrence McNally and the score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens prove to be an odd match, even though each by itself is quite good. McNally is a deft writer, and his scenes crackle with sharp dialogue. But the songs frequently do less to advance the story than draw attention to themselves; the amusing lyrics and lilting Irish or pop melodies don't help us understand or explore the journey Alfie has embarked upon, as he tries to understand his sexuality.

As Alfie, Matthew Wright gives a nuanced and intelligent performance, but one doesn't feel the intense pressure building in him as he fights to produce his controversial play while sorting out his feelings for Robbie. We are continually pulled away by musical digressions. To wit, a minor character's lovely rendition of "The Cuddles Mary Gave" is a tender remembrance, but irrelevant to the proceedings at hand. And a song about the odd decisions of the backstage staff, including the wardrobe designer's idea of having Salome's veils equipped with zippers, is funny but off point.

In supporting roles, Lenne Snively has a fine comic touch as Lily, and Rob Mayes is a hunk and a half as Robbie. Director Scott Spence doesn't force the pace and allows the story room to breathe. But the material is often too busy being entertaining, and it doesn't take itself seriously enough to do full justice to Alfie's coming-out struggles.

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