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A CurtainUp Review from the Shaw Festival
A Woman Of No Importance

by Joe Green

This being the centenary year of the death of Oscar Wilde, both the Shaw and Stratford Festivals have joined in the celebration. At Stratford, Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is playing in a recently discovered four act version; as well, A Wilde Celebration in August will feature a number of readings, including a biographical portrait by Wilde's grandson, Merlin Holland, William Hutt's staged presentation of "De Profundis", Wilde's poignant prison reflections adapted by Mr. Holland, a dramatic reading of The Picture of Dorian Gray featuring Paul Gross in the title role, and a dramatization of The Trials of Oscar Wilde featuring Brian Bedford, William Hutt and Richard Monette,

Over at Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Shaw Festival celebrates the centenary with its production of Wilde's A Woman of No Importance, a play of minor importance in the playwright's canon. While competently staged at the Festival's Court House Theatre, this play has neither the biting wit and verbal farce of Earnest nor the equally biting satire of Dorian Gray. It's major interest rests in Wilde's descent into sentimentality, an area in which we seldom see this artist.

While some may see this play as a socio-satirical commentary, and there are numerous barbs about the class structure in England, its devolution almost into mawkishness as the middle class Brit lad gets the classy puritanical American lass seems unworthy of Wilde's penchant for comically searing observation of society.

Perhaps the academic gloss of A Woman of No Importance, which holds in some quarters that it is a significant piece of social commentary, has been dimmed by a production that glosses over the more pointed social references which might have raised more interesting issues than appear on the Court House stage. For this failure, we must look to Susan Ferley's direction. Together with the play's melodramatic close in which the hero gets the heroine and the villain ends in defeat, Ms. Ferley's almost glib reading of the piece results in an evening more frustrating than fulfilling.

Despite these concerns about the play and the production, it should be noted that the acting strength of the Shaw Festival company does come through in a number of performances. Jennifer Phipps as Lady Pontefract and Normaning Browing as her forever wandering husband bring a solid sense of comedy to the evening, as does Bernard Behrens' doty Archdeacon. In the play's central roles, Jim Mezon turns in a fine performance as Lord Illington, the villain of the melodrama, while Severn Thompson does likewise as Hester Worsley, the American heroine who saves Illington's illegitimate son from a life of middle class penury -- matching their equally strong performances in this season's The Doctor's Dilemma.

by Oscar Wilde
Director: Susan Ferley
Cast (in order of appearance): Lady Caroline Pontefract - Jennifer Phipps; Sir John Pontefract - Norman Browning; Miss Hester Worsley - Severn Thompson; Lady Hunstanton - Sharry Flett; Gerald Arbuthnot - Mike Wasko; Mrs. Allonby - Brigitte Robinson; Lady Stutfield - Jillian Cook; Mr. Kelvil, MP - Lorne Kennedy; Lord Illingworth - Jim Mezon; Lord Alfred Rufford - Tony Van Bridge; Mrs. Arbuthnot - Mary Haney; Archdeacon Daubeny, DD - Bernard Behrens Design: William Schmuck Lighting Design: Michael Kruse
Court House Theatre at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario Festival Website - Running: May 16 to September 23, 2000 Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes including one intermission Review by Joe Green based on July 9, 2000 evening performance

©Copyright 2000, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.
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