Performing Arts
© Mike Keenan

Oscar Wilde's "A Woman of No Importance" Opens at Buffalo's Irish Classical Theater

Jenn Stafford, Vincent O'Neill, photo by Gene Witkowski

Lord Illingworth: "What do you think she'd do if I kissed her?" (Hester Worsley)
Mrs. Allonby: "Either marry you, or strike you across the face with her glove. What would you do if she struck you across the face with her glove?"
Lord Illingworth: "Fall in love with her, probably."

Mocking the British upper crust and Victorian morality that abandoned women "in trouble" was like shooting fish in a barrel for gifted Irish playwright Oscar Wilde, whose derisive plays lampoon jaded Brit society and its decidedly 1% class distinctions. That gilded society doesn't alter much over the centuries, and so, Artistic Director and the play's prime actor, Vincent O'Neill's (Lord Illingworth) solid performance is just as relevant now with President Obama supposedly trying to address the needs of the 99% while old money and the nouveau riche control lackluster legislators.

The difficult aspect of staging this play in downtown Buffalo compared to the opulence of costume and set available in nearby Niagara on the Lake's Shaw Festival, is that director Josephine Hogan must make magic with theatre-in-the-round and the audience as background and a limited budget. Nonetheless, Dixon Reynolds' costumes are first-rate, and Hogan's large cast of 13 local actors is up to the task, although most see limited action.

Alan Trinca   Chris Kelly   Diane Curley   Doug Weyand   Eileen Dugan   Eliza Vann

Gerry Maher   Jenn Stafford   Kathleen Betsko Yale   Kelli Bocock-Natale   Peter Hinton   Artistic Director Vincent O'Neill at the 2013 Artie Awards

In fact, Wilde's plays are always more about words and ideas than action, although O'Neill when he launches into his mischievous rhetoric at least stands up to deliver his biting quips to such as Lady Hunstanton (Kelli Bocock-Natale) who remains seated and confused, adept at offering humorous, diametrically opposed interpretations such as, "I remember, a clergyman who wanted to be a lunatic, or a lunatic who wanted to be a clergyman." The audience loved her foggy thinking as well as the nasty diatribes of her companion, Lady Caroline, perfectly portrayed by Kathleen Betsko Yale, festooned in black velvet (almost in mourning for her country), who lampoons the voice of reason and morality, Hester Worsley, the impudent American Puritan played appropriately primly and subdued by Eliza Vann while Yale bosses around her dutiful husband Sir John Pontefract (Gerry Maher) who likes to hang out more with the younger ladies such as Diane Curley's silly Lady Stutfield and Jenn Stafford's more sinister Mrs. Allonby who excels in a long monologue on "the ideal husband" and goads Illingworth into the kiss that dramatically changes the outcome for Alan Trinca's exceptional Gerald Arbuthnot, the ambitious bastard son of Illingworth and vengeful Mrs. Arbuthnot played exceedingly well by Eileen Dugan who smolders in the first act and explodes in the second, getting the last word and forever castigating Illingworth as "a man of no importance."

The plot has Worsley spend a weekend at an English country house party in the company of bored and boring nobility. Her love interest, Gerald, is offered a post to work for Lord Illingworth. When Gerald's mother Rachel arrives, the plot sizzles with scandal. As with last season's Shaw Festival's Lady Windermere's Fan, brilliantly director by Peter Hinton, the theme involves aristocratic secrets and gender politics. This play opened in 1893, was performed in New York and about to tour when Wilde was arrested and charged with sodomy following his public row with the Marquess of Queensberry over the Marquess' son, Lord Alfred Douglas . The tour was cancelled.

ICTC co-founder and Artistic Director, Vincent O'Neill is superb as Lord Illingworth, an aging bachelor - clever and coy, Mrs. Arbuthnot's (Eileen Dugan) former lover (discarded) and father of Gerald. Mrs. Allonby (Jenn Stafford) reveals similar disarming qualities with snake-like venom, and the two engage in repartee. Illingworth offers Gerald the post of private secretary and thus sets in motion a conflicting series of events.

Mrs. Arbuthnot is portrayed as a respectable widow and churchgoer who performs good work amongst the poor while naïve Gerald accept society uncritically, his black and white belief in honour and duty causing him to insist upon his parents' marriage. Flirtatious Mrs. Allonby dares Illingworth to "kiss the Puritan," orphan and heiress, Hester Worsley (Eliza Vann) an outsider to British society. Lady Caroline Pontefract (Kathleen Betsko Yale) bullies Mr. Kelvil (Chris Kelly) whom she incorrectly constantly refers to as "Mr. Kettle." As an M.P., Kelvil wants to improve society, but lacks the personality to succeed, while Lady Stutfield (Diane Curley) tritely intones "Quite, Quite." Archdeacon Daubeny (Doug Weyand) plays a similarly slight role often slapping his hands in glee.

A Woman of No Importance focuses on the differences between men and women and, more importantly, the way in which Victorian society mistreated its ladies. As with Lady Windermere's Fan, Wilde attacks the injustice of a society that condemns a "fallen" woman while offering respite to the male who caused her downfall.

During the play, Lord Illingworth and Mrs. Allonby share this humorous riposte: "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy," "No man does. That is his." Some other of the many bon mots in the play are the following:

The Irish Classical Theatre Company was honored as "Best Theatre Company in Buffalo" by ARTVOICE for the eighth consecutive year!

Performances are at The Andrews Theatre, 625 Main Street, Buffalo, to Sunday, February 9, Thursday through Saturday at 7:30PM with matinees on Saturday at 3PM and Sunday at 2PM. Single tickets are $39 each. On Sunday, tickets for seniors are just $35 each. ICTC 4 Play Packs remain on sale, giving buyers 4 tickets to use as they please throughout the remainder of ICTC's 2013-2014 Season, for just $119. More information and subscriptions are available: by phone: (716) 853-ICTC (4282) Online 24/7:

Eileen Dugan, Vincent O'Neill, photo by Gene Witkowski

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