Aaron Lamb and Candace Vance in "A Woman of No Importance" at Taproot Theatre Company. Photo by Robert Wade.
What does it mean to “be good”? Why are men seemingly held to one standard, and women to another?
While these sound like modern topics being discussed today, they are also some of the central questions in Oscar Wilde’s brilliant comedy “A Woman of No Importance.” This clever play is now on stage at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre Company, through March 4, 2023.
The play focuses on the guests at Lady Hunstanton’s party at a lovely English county home. A young man, Gerald, is given a promising job opportunity, only to have everything brought into question when a secret about his past is revealed.
Wilde used wit to question and criticize English high society and the troubling attitudes about the rules and expectations of women. I’m not sure if it’s depressing or impressive that a play first published in 1894 still feels relatable, as it makes fun of gendered roles and points out the ridiculousness and double standards of it all. This play had the audience laughing out loud with one line and nodding our heads in silent agreement with the next. Karen Lund, the show's producing artistic director, describes this phenomenon well, saying, “Wilde uses comedy to conjure, distracting us with seeming silliness that turns out to be profound.”
The cast did a wonderful job with the nonstop witty and complex dialogue. Bretteney Beverly (Lady Caroline) and Aaron Lamb (Lord Illingworth) deliver particularly strong performances, as a wealthy older woman constantly worrying about her husband and the infamous Lord whose indiscretions are constantly overlooked due to his rank in society.
For a moment near the end of the play, I was afraid that it would end with the familiar trope: a man treats a woman horribly, then they fall in love anyway and end up together.
But this is the world and wit of Oscar Wilde, so I needn’t have worried.
Leave the kids at home
While there is nothing explicate or inappropriate in this play, the complexity of the dialogue and subject matter are unlikely to interest kids. If you have an older teenage thespian in your home, they will likely enjoy the show, especially if they have read and appreciated other works by Wilde.
But better to leave the kids at home and make it a date night and conversation starter with your partner, or a galentines’ night out with a pal! There are many restaurants nearby, or pop across the street for a post-show drink at the cozy — and kooky — Cozy Nut Tavern.
This play offers up much to discuss and favorite memorable lines to compare. It is packed with gems such as: “It is perfectly monstrous the way people go about, nowadays, saying things against one behind one’s back that are absolutely and entirely true.”
Taproot Theatre is an ideal venue for this type of show. The play is on the theater’s Jewell Mainstage, which has a thrust stage — seats wrap around three sides — and you will never be more than 30 feet away from the action. Many seats are within just a few feet of the stage, offering an up-close professional theater experience that is rarely possible (or affordable) at larger theaters.
If you go …
When: “A Woman of No Importance” is on stage now, and plays through March 4, 2023.
Tickets: Tickets are $25–$56, with the least expensive shows on weeknights. Purchase tickets online — and soon, as some shows are already sold out.
Health and Safety: As of Jan. 5, 2023 masks are highly encouraged at most performances. There are three upcoming performances of “A Woman of No Importance” for which masks are required: Feb. 4, Feb. 10 and Feb. 22. See more details about health and safety policies on the theater’s website.
Running time: There are four acts, for a total running time of about two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.