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Theater Preview | ‘A Man of No Importance’ explores charged topics

Torn Ticket II fall musical confronts homophobia, identity issues

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012

Updated: Sunday, November 18, 2012 16:11

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Ashley Seenauth / The Tufts Daily

The cast of “A Man of No Importance” worked with Tufts Drama department faculty member Barbara Wallace Grossman to perfect their Irish accents.

“This is a show that Tufts [theater] should be doing,” said director Reza Mirsajadi in regard to Terrence McNally’s “A Man of No Importance.” Accordingly, Torn Ticket II, Tufts’ student−run musical theater group, is performing the piece for its fall production. The musical centers on the life of Alfie Byrne (freshman Andrew Prensky), a bus conductor living in Dublin during the 1960s. How will the story of a middle−aged Irishman, set nearly half a century ago, engage Tufts students when “A Man of No Importance” plays this weekend?

Mirsajadi, who worked with Torn Ticket II on “Over the Rainbow” last spring, eagerly sought to answer this question. He said that the choice to produce “A Man of No Importance” fits with the group’s willingness to explore dark, edgy themes through performance. The play, he said, also capitalizes on the Tufts community’s readiness to listen.

Like “Over the Rainbow” and “Our Private Lives,” other recent Tufts productions, “A Man of No Importance” confronts homophobia and explores an individual’s struggle for self−acceptance. Even given those similarities, the production promises to be wholly unique.

The musical opens with Alfie being violently beaten for being gay. In response to the assault, Alfie’s friends, who are members of the amateur theatre troupe he directs, decide to present their own version of his life. They work together to narrate their friend’s story, and as the play — and the play within a play — unfolds, so does the audience’s understanding of Alfie’s character. His profound love of art, tied to an innate sense of theatricality and idealism, as well as his struggle to face his own sexuality and connect with the world around him all emerge.

“A Man of No Importance” considers more than LGBT issues: It delves into a matrix of social issues that are as relevant today as they were in the ’60s. As the musical considers universally relevant topics like modes of expression, love and heartbreak, it increases its likeliness of striking a chord with individual audience members. Senior Corrine Segal, who is also a senior staff writer at the Daily, said that her character, Adele Rice, is new to Dublin when she is befriended by Alfie.

“I see the story of [my] character as being a story of gaining more confidence in yourself, of learning to love yourself for who you are and learning to embrace the people around you and learning to make new friends,” said Segal of her role.

The show boasts a full score, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. It also requires its cast to adopt Irish accents, perfected by the actors with the help of coaching from Tufts Drama department faculty member Barbara Wallace Grossman. Freshman Becca Cooley, who plays Alfie’s older sister and roommate, Lily Byrne, said that though it presented a challenge, working to attain the perfect Irish brogue really helped her tap into her “full, fun” character. Cooley reported a very positive overall creative experience and said she particularly enjoyed working with the cast.

“At Tufts, you find your families. This is definitely one of them,” she said.

“A Man of No Importance” will be running tonight through Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Balch Arena Theatre. Performances start at 7:30 pm, and tickets can be purchased in person from the Aidekman Arts Center Box Office or by telephone at 617−627−3493.

The original version of this article incorrectly stated that Torn Ticket II used an outside dialect coach to help students perfect their Irish accents. Actually, Torn Ticket II was aided by a faculty member of the Tufts Drama department, Barbara Wallace Grossman. The current version reflects this change.

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