CONNECTICUT CRITICS CIRCLE
A Woman of No Importance


More Talk than Action in Wilde's Woman of No Importance at Yale Rep
By Amy J. Barry

The banter, the witticisms, the crisply clever language of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde is eloquently
showcased in Yale Rep's current production of A Woman of No Importance. The rarely staged play
tends to be overshadowed by the more familiar The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal
Husband-although Wilde wrote all three plays within a few years prior to the turn-of-the century.

But for all its wonderful wordplay and biting commentary on the battle of the sexes, the collision of
American and British values, and the hypocrisies of the English upper crust, there is something
missing in the visual aspects this production, directed by James Bundy.

Lauren Rockman's sets are attractive but sparse. We are expected to imagine too much in this
traditional comedy of manners. The wealth and opulence of the characters' lives isn't reflected in their
surroundings: an un-flowery patio of a grand country home, shifting inside to an under-furnished
drawing room where guest congregate after leaving an imaginary dining room.

There is also a lack of physical movement and interaction between characters, whose bodies don't
keep up with the speed of their tongues.

The four act, 15-character play takes place at Hunstanton Chase, an English country estate where
lords and ladies enjoy tea and gossip. Matronly Lady Caroline (Judith-Marie Bergan) and Lady
Hunstanton (Patricia Kilgarriff) entertain and interrogate their young American visitor, Hester Worsley
(Erica Sullivan), whom they refer to as The Puritan, becomes outraged by the shallowness and conceit
she observes in the British upper class.

"With all your pomp and wealth and art you don't know how to live. You have lost life's secret," she
lectures.

Although Heather is outraged by the treatment of women and the poor, Sullivan's portrayal of Heather
as harshly judgmental, masks the compassion her character is meant to convey.

René Augesen brings some lively fun to the stage as the flirtatious and outrageous Mrs. Allonby, who
dares the handsome ladies' man Lord Illingworth-played with appropriate roguishness by Geordie
Johnson-to steal a kiss from Heather.

Quick with the quips and waxing philosophical, without taking himself too seriously, Johnson delivers
the best of Wilde's lines: "There is nothing like youth. The middle-aged are mortgaged to Life. The old
are in life's lumber-room. But youth is the Lord of Life…To win back my youth, there is nothing I
wouldn't do-except take exercise, get up early, or be a useful member of the community."

The plot moves beyond verbal gymnastics when a mysterious woman named Mrs. Arbuthnot (Kate
Forbes) appears at the estate. Clad in black velvet, she contrasts sharply with the colorfully costumed
women in the room. She is the mother of Gerald Arbuthnot (Bryce Pinkham), to whom Lord Illingworth
has offered a post as his private secretary. Gerald doesn't know the shameful secret-he is the product
of an affair 20 years prior between his mother and his future employer-and father-who promised and
then refused to marry his mother.

Pinkham is engaging as the earnest and loyal young man trying to discern what's going on. We feel
sympathy for the fallen Mrs. Arbuthnot who tries to dissuade her son from taking the job with
Illingworth but Forbes's performance is a bit blasé. Where we expect her to be angry, she is pensive
and sullen.

Some of Wilde's observations about men and women and social class hold up superbly and others ring
hollow-they fail to transcend the 115 years since they were first written. But to hear the language
spoken so beautifully and articulately is reason enough to see A Woman of No Importance at Yale
Rep.

A Woman of No Importance continues through April 12 at Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street,
New Haven. For tickets and information call the box office at 203-432-1234 or online www.yalerep.org.

This review originally appeared in Shore Publishing Newspapers' Living section, 4/10/08.


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