“A beautiful, wealthy, American woman travels to England seeking to marry a titled aristocrat.”
That is a brief synopsis of the Walnut Street Theatre’s latest production, Oscar Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance,” but there is so much more to the story than just a woman trying to find herself a rich husband—in fact that is just the material veil over this complex, yet hilarious production.
“A Woman of No Importance” is a comedy, but throughout the show, there is quite a lot of depth—which is made apparent through a few extremely well-acted and believable monologues.
Oscar Wilde penned the show in 1890, at the height of his career, and the satirical wit master really let his comedic writings shine through with the popular production. The show then premiered three years later in 1893 in London and has even graced the stage at the Walnut before, albeit many decades ago.
Wilde tackles the bourgeois life of Victorian England while also showcasing the “refreshing” American mindset and the blaring double standards that were held against women in the 19th century. The obvious social problems are executed through hilarious one-liners, colorful characterization and entertaining debates.
The most compelling character on the comedic side also happens to be the “villain”. Lord Illingworth (Ian Merrill Peakes) is loved by many despite his selfish motivations and blatant disregard for social cues, but he does so with a charm and facetiousness that almost even sways the audience to like him more than his foil character. Peakes has achieved this before in past shows, including the Walnut’s production last year of “Matilda the Musical” where he played Ms. Trunchbull.
Illingworth’s protagonist counterpart, Rachel Arbuthnot (Alicia Roper) doesn’t come in until a few scenes into the show, but once she does the story takes off. Not to give spoilers away, but Roper’s character goes through her own turmoil within just a few minutes of arriving on stage, and the audience is right on the ride with her. She undoubtedly steals the scene on multiple occasions.
The “beautiful, wealthy American woman looking to marry a titled aristocrat” mentioned before is played by Audrey Ward. Ward’s character also has her own shining moments, and Ward was quite impressive making her debut on the Walnut stage herself. Every character has their time to shine in the show with their own moments of hilarity and compelling pleas. A few more notable performances gracing the stage for “A Woman of No Importance” includes longtime Walnut actor and director Bill Van Horn taking on the role of Sir John Pontefract, Walnut teaching artist Jessica Bedford tackling Lady Stutfield and Brandon O’ Rourke playing Gerald Arbuthnot.
“A Woman of No Importance” is not a show with a lot of pazaaz, dance numbers or over-the-top antics. The humor is smart and the emotions at times do run high, but mostly it offers an interesting snapshot into the past and if we’re lucky, it may even help teach us about relatable themes in our own present culture.
“A Woman of No Importance” will be onstage at the Walnut Street Theatre until March 1. For more information and tickets, visit walnutstreettheatre.org