Oscar Wilde’s 1893 A Woman of No Importance is seldom produced. Audiences who see Bernard Havard’s production at the Walnut Street Theatre will understand why. Havard has assembled an able cast (including local favorites Mary Martello and Ian Merrill Peakes) and a handsome production (a sepia-toned set infused with nostalgia by Roman Tatarowicz and period costumes by Mary Folino). Like other Wilde comedies, A Woman exposes and satirizes the secret improprieties and anxieties of Britain’s upper class. The first 60-ish minutes of the play are entirely devoted to dithering about the worrisome changes modernity seems to be bringing: women’s rights! Crowded cities! Amusements for the poor! Adding to the fun is an American guest (Temple sophomore Audrey Ward). She monologues about the moral superiority of the American spirit. It makes for tough listening in 2020.
The remainder of the plot revolves around the revelations of Gerald Arbuthnot’s (Brandon O’Rourke) parentage. As the play heads to intermission we find out (after plenty of foreshadowing) that his father is his patron, the amoral Lord Illingworth (the excellent Ian Merrill Peakes). This opens up a hurricane of shame, for Gerald’s pious mother, Rachel (Alicia Roper). As the play veers into moralistic melodrama, the performances become increasingly overwrought. For those truly committed to the works of Oscar Wilde, this provides a faithful presentation of a less than inspired work.
[Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street] January 14-March 1, 2020; walnutstreettheatre.org