A MAN OF NO IMPORTANCE, Apple Tree Theatre. In a New York Times interview Terrence McNally admitted that he and songwriters Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens wrote their musical adaptation of Suri Krishnamma’s 1994 film “very quickly.” That might explain why McNally’s book contains so few of his trademark flaws, most notably the habit of undercutting moments of emotional truth with silly jokes. Moreover this charming little show–about a closeted middle-aged Dublin bus conductor who finds the courage to come out, sort of, while attempting to direct Oscar Wilde’s Salome at his local parish–is tightly constructed, with seamless transitions from story to song and back.
Flaherty and Ahrens have a gift for mimicking musical styles, a talent they displayed to advantage in Ragtime. Here they borrow from Ireland’s rich musical heritage, with pleasing results–though from time to time one wonders what’s under their chameleon skins. The best part of this musical, though, is that it doesn’t flinch at portraying the more provincial, hidebound, priest-ridden qualities of the Irish. Nor do the folks at Apple Tree, who freely show what homophobes the Irish could be in 1964. Brilliant in the title role, Ross Lehman conveys more about his character’s dead-end life with a squint and a quick gesture of the hands than most actors can accomplish in 20 minutes onstage.