Review: A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE at Walnut Street Theatre

By: Jan. 27, 2020
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Review: A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE at Walnut Street Theatre
Photo by Mark Garvin

For years, Walnut Street Theater has been known for putting on high-quality and well-loved musicals and plays. While this model attracts many, it leaves Little Room for the kind of experimentation many other Philadelphia companies rely on. With its new production of A Woman of No Importance, Walnut Street Theatre hit its stride in producing classic works with a creative twist.

The Oscar Wilde play is a satire on 19th century British society, and draws on American idealism and class relations for comedic material. It focuses on Lord Illington, a socialite and Mrs. Arbuthnot, a middle class socialite-adjacent, who meet for the first time since conceiving a child 20 years earlier.

Since its debut in London in 1893, A Woman of No Importance has become a staple in English classrooms and on regional stages -- the Walnut put on the play back in the 1800s. So how do you take a more than 100-year-old comedy and make it relevant and entertaining to modern audiences?

Walnut Street Theatre's production was transformed by an ingenious set by Roman Tatarowicz that turned three ways to give the play's many locations an aesthetically pleasing and meaningful backdrop.The entire set, including furniture and props and even plants, are painted in beige and black stripes to give the illusion that the characters' world was constructed on a piece of paper.

While beautiful to look at, Tatarowicz's set serves to guide the audience to understand the two-dimensional, material lives of British socialites. Though class divides still exist today, there are few modern day examples of upper-class excess and opulence this audience can relate to. The set also enhances the play's dramatic irony by allowing some tan-clad characters to camouflage themselves onstage.

As always, the cast and creative team at the Walnut put on a Broadway-caliber production. However, I hope the company continues to elevate their traditional renditions with unexpected choices like this set. These things solidify that America's Oldest Theatre is rich with history, but is far from vintage.

A Woman of No Importance runs until March 1, and tickets can be purchased HERE.