Review: ‘Woman of No Importance’ at Scena Theatre

The first thing you notice about Scena Theatre’s Woman of No Importance is Alisa Mandel’s lush costume design. Like an unnamed character, her costumes define the characters nearly as much as the actors. From top hats to straw hats, to crisp 1930s suits and glamorous 1930s dresses, the fashionable look of the players was dynamite.

Nanna Ingvarsson in Woman of No Importance. Photo by Jae Yi Photography

Robert McNamara, Scena’s Artistic Director, has directed a comedy that sings with bleeding-sharp dialogue. McNamara’s all-female cast brought liveliness to Oscar Wilde’s story, set in 1930s Hollywood, of young and ambitious Gerald Arbuthnot, set to become the secretary of the caddish and wealthy Lord Illingworth, who had a questionable relationship with Gerald’s spinsterish mother, Mrs. Arbuthnot.

Nanna Ingvarsson commanded attention as Lord Illingworth. Looking like a 70s-era, glam David Bowie with slicked-back blond hair, and with a penciled-on mustache, Ingvarsson brought a peculiar feminine energy to a lecherous playboy. Her black top hat and plaid-gray, broad-shouldered jacket made her character as compelling as lines like: “The future belongs to the dandy.”

(L to R): Karin Rosnizeck, Melissa Robinson and Moriah Whiteman in Woman of No Importance. Photo by Jae Yi Photography
(L to R): Karin Rosnizeck, Melissa Robinson and Moriah Whiteman. Photo by Jae Yi Photography

There’s always been gossip, and the witty characters Lady Hunstanton and Lady Caroline brought plenty of it in this show. McNamara had them and several other characters jump and spin after shocking riposts (no doubt coached by Movement Consultant Kim Curtis), complete with a chirping sound effect (no doubt the work of Sound Designer Denise Rose). Melissa B. Robinson, who has directed pieces such as Highwood Theatre’s Vonya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and Karin Rosnizeck, recently seen in Scena’s 1984, played off each other in a dynamic manner.

Dina Sotlan looked alluring and elegant in her slinky black dress and adorable matching 1930-ish cloche hat. Her character, Mrs. Allonby, added to the gossip and innuendo on display and even batted her eyelashes towards Lord Illingworth.

Sara Barker brought weariness and a characteristic frustration to her role as Mrs. Arbuthnot. Jen Bevan’s Gerald was full of zeal, and got to utter a timeless and relevant line about one of the characters: “Is it fair to go back 20 years in any man’s career?”

It was nice to see the always wonderful Ellie Nicoll work, this time as Sir John. I also liked Karen Elle as Mr. Kelvil. Zoe Walpole (Francis/Lord Alfred); Ruthi Rado (Lady Stutfield/Alice); and Moriah Whiteman (Miss Hester) capped off a cast that worked well together and handled Wilde’s laser-fast dialogue.

The show’s vibe was most certainly helped by the work of Dramaturg Gabriele Jakobi and Dialect Coach Colin Davies (also seen recently in 1984). Jesse Marciniak’s projection design helped to move the story along with lines from the show. Michael C. Stepowany’s set, built on the black box space within Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lab I, featured a few raked chairs, stage right and left, and a rug. Scena Theatre continues to thrill, entertain and entice.

Running Time: About 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Woman of No Importance runs through December 2, 2018, at Scena Theatre performing at Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.