A Woman of No Importance

By Tom Holehan
Distraught theatergoers who still haven't quite recovered from that bloody tongue in Yale
Rep's last production, "The Evildoers", are advised to take heart. The theatre is currently
presenting a glorious revival of Oscar Wilde's seldom produced "A Woman of No
Importance" and a better-acted or produced show this season is going to be hard to top.
Make tracks.

Written in 1893 and as timeless as tomorrow's New York Times, "A Woman of No
Importance" exhibits the genius of Oscar Wilde in his formative years as he delighted in
bringing down the upper classes in plays of wit, malice and scathing satire. The play is
set primarily in the English country house of the gracious Lady Hunstanton (a wonderful
Patricia Kilgarriff). It is here that an assortment of the well-dressed upper-crust has been
invited to leisurely sit about and comment - with delicious bon mots and head-spinning
epigrams - about the topics of the day. Among the guests are the acerbic Lady Caroline
(Judith-Marie Bergan, priceless), her hen-pecked husband Sir John (Anthony Newfield)
and young American Hester Worsley (Erica Sullivan). As is usual with most of Wilde's
work, there is lengthy exposition before a semblance of plot is revealed. Indeed a rather
static first scene is basically all set-up as numerous of society's cream merely sit on
stage and pontificate.

The play's major conflict involves the arrival of Mrs. Arbuthnot (Kate Forbes), a "fallen
woman" with a terrible secret whose son, Gerald (Bryce Pinkham), has recently been
offered a post as secretary with the charismatic and successful Lord Illingworth (Geordie
Johnson). Mrs. Arbuthnot is reluctant to let her son take the new position due to the fact
that Illingworth is Gerald's secret father - the product of an affair in which Illingworth
refused to marry her. Wilde delights in exploiting the hypocrisy of English society and
the double standard of rules that govern the sexes. In "A Woman of No Importance" we
are treated to many examples of marriage and Wilde's cynical distain for most of them.
If the women's roles dominate here, that may have been Wilde's point and, at Yale, a
superb cast of actresses have been assembled under James Bundy's graceful direction.
Ms. Forbes, who was seen to very good advantage last fall in Long Wharf's production of
"The Price", makes a striking entrance late in the first act and dominates the action from
that moment on. Even a difficult and rather melodramatic monologue in the play's final
scene is performed by the actress with intelligence and unique feeling. Ms. Bergan is
hilarious as the shrewish wife currently working on her fourth husband who suddenly,
with a brilliant shade of character, reveals how much she truly needs the man who may
already be lost to her. And of Ms. Kilgarriff, enough praise can not be lavished. As the
most "mature" member of the cast, she shows the wisdom and effortless comic timing
that only a pro of her theatrical experience could master. She's a treasure.

Production values are also high at Yale. Lauren Rockman's four-set scenic design is
beautifully appointed with several choice pieces of furniture from the period while Anya
Klepikov's gorgeous costuming works on every level. When Mrs. Arbuthnot makes her
long delayed entrance in a drop-dead black velvet gown, it reveals volumes about the
character before she utters a single word.

One might argue that Wilde - before his comic masterpiece "The Importance of Being
Earnest" opened two years later - was still finding his way with this work. This is
especially true with the odd fourth act which seems overwritten and tonally off-key. In the
end, however, I'd find it very difficult to delete one line of Wilde's verbal gold from this
pitch-perfect and impressive revival.

"A Woman of No Importance" continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through April
12th. For further information call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit:

Tom Holehan is co-founder of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of
Stratford's Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the
Connecticut Critics Circle website:

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