Oscar Wilde's satirical comedy A Woman of No Importance was first performed in 1893, but Paul Hardy, who directs this production for Alumnae Theatre Company, decided to transpose it to the mid 1980s. That being the era of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and "power dressing", it highlights the fact that for all our progress, the 1% still control the 99%, and women are still subject to more social scrutiny and censure than men.
Hardy notes that "By 1985, Thatcherism economics had boiled tensions to full in Britain. Massive riots based on race and class had just raged in the East End of London. Thatcher's power was at its zenith. The decadent rich were enjoying one of their best times in recent British history. Today, just as in Wilde's day, the richest people argue about what is 'too much' to give to the poor, and young mothers are accosted in public for not waiting or having more restraint."
The plot of Woman is classic Wilde: at a weekend country house party hosted by Lady Hunstanton (played by Andy Fraser), wealthy ladies' man Lord Illingworth (Andrew Batten) is the subject of much gossip among his friends in the upper-crust. He is about to hire an ambitious young man, Gerald Arbuthnot (Nicholas Porteous) as his secretary/travelling companion. Gerald is eager to accept, but his mother, the quiet-living Mrs. Arbuthnot (the unimportant "woman" of the title, played by Áine Magennis) is horrified that Gerald will be exposed to Illingworth's unsavoury influence. Or does she have a more serious reason for her objection? The play is crammed full of Oscar Wilde's witty zingers and flirtatious banter. It also deals with some heated issues, both for Wilde's time and ours.
Brandon Kleiman does double duty on set and costume design for Woman: shoulder pads and big hair are the standouts against a set which he describes as "an abstract piece that hopes to capture the mood of Mrs. Arbuthnot, a woman of no importance. Like an unwanted moth, forgotten, rejected, with dull colours, hidden from the world. Mrs. Arbuthnot is in a way on the outside looking in. The windows are her viewfinder to another world. A world of butterflies."
Angus Barlow, who previously designed sound for Alumnae productions Wit and Closer, mines 1980's pop and blends the real and the surreal in a soundscape both eerie and silly. Lighting Designer Mikael Kangas creates a stark and dramatic design that highlights the grotesque and shapes the minimal set.
In addition to Andrew Batten, Andy Fraser, Áine Magennis and Nicholas Porteous, Alumnae Theatre Company's production of A Woman of No Importance also features Gillian English, Paula Schultz, Michael Vitorovich and Amy Zuch as rich and/or titled guests at the party; Sophia Fabiilli as an American heiress who's also a Puritan; James Graham as a social-climbing politician; Jason Thompson as a holier-than-thou clergyman; and Kathleen Pollard and Daniel Staseff as the servants none of them can live without.
A Woman of No Importance runs approximately 2 hrs, including one 15-minute intermission. Opening Night & Gala: tonight, January 25, 2013. The Show runs through Saturday, February 9, 2013. Schedule: Wednesday - Saturday 8:00pm; Sunday matinee at 2:00pm. Talkback with cast & director after the matinee on February 3.
Tickets: Wednesday 2-for-1; Thursday, Friday & Saturday $20; Sunday PWYC. May be purchased online for Thu/Fri (except opening night)/Sat at www.totix.ca (service charge applies). Alumnae Theatre is located at 70 Berkeley Street (SW corner with Adelaide), Toronto. Box Office: 416-364-4170 (box 1) or e-mail email@example.com. For cash purchases, Box Office opens one hour prior to each performance. Please note: Alumnae box office does not accept credit or debit cards.