Sacred Fools is famous for mounting edgy adventuresome productions. Every so often they take a shot at one of the classics: Richard III a couple of years ago, and now A Woman of No Importance, a drawing room comedy by Oscar Wilde concerned with gender roles and the sexual double standard.
A Woman of No Importance may not be the Irish satirist’s most well-made play, but it’s still a witty one, with plenty to say about men, women and the jaded and corrupt ruling classes. But pretty much every reason for wanting to see this thoughtful comedy is down the tubes in this seriously flawed production. As directed by Armina LaManna, not only are most of the performances subpar, but the titled character, a person of principle in contrast to the blathering hypocrites around her, is interpreted to be a pathetic victim, nearly destroyed by the system. It’s a depiction that does feminism no favors.
The story is as follows: Mrs. Arbuthnot (Alexa Hamilton) is a semi-reclusive middle-aged woman with a grown son Gerald (Sean Gibson), born out of wedlock when she was a naïve young thing and left in the lurch by her callous lover. That man has since inherited money and a title to become Lord Illingworth (David Wilcox), a popular figure in British upper class circles. Unaware that Gerald’s his son, Lord Illingworth has taken a fancy to him and offered him a prestigious position that will advance the young man’s career and likely transform his life.
When she learns about this, Mrs. Arbuthnot begs Gerald not to accept, but will not explain why, for fear of exposing the shame of her youth.
The play pits Illingworth, a conscience-less member of the House of Lords and an inveterate seducer of the opposite sex, against a woman with few resources and little power. Their faceoff casts a still relevant spotlight on the careless amorality of the ruling elite, from a political standpoint as well as a cultural one.
Like many Wilde plays, the action takes place in someone’s drawing room, which is where, right from the start, the production falters. Excepting Tegan Ashton Cohan, who evokes a spirited woman of the world, and Hamilton, who evinces some credibility in her character’s distress, the performances are all posing, mannerism and mugging. Wilcox’s depthless preening in a plum role is especially disappointing. As Hester, the American visitor whose youth and freshness is supposed to serve as contrast to the snide dissembling matrons, Christine Sage looks and sounds like everyone else, perhaps as a result of the direction.
Designer JR Bruce’s set is lovely, but Linda Muggeridge’s costumes are more hodgepodge than artful asset. And the ensemble’s attempt at British accents leaves a lot to be desired.
Sacred Fools Theatre Company 660 N. Heliotrope Dr., L.A..; through Dec 17; (310) 281-8337, www.sacredfools.org.
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