PaperHouse thinks Wilde’s ‘Woman’ deserves our attention

Chester Shepherd and Katy Shepherd disagree on a time for l’amour in “A Woman of No Importance,” produced by PaperHouse Theatre.
Chester Shepherd and Katy Shepherd disagree on a time for l’amour in “A Woman of No Importance,” produced by PaperHouse Theatre. George Hendricks Photography

“If equality of the sexes is your definition of feminism, this is absolutely a feminist play,” Kim Parati says of Oscar Wilde’s “A Woman of No Importance.”

Parati, a mainstay of Charlotte’s theater scene for more than a decade as an actress, makes her directing debut with Oscar Wilde’s sparkling comedy of good manners and ill will. The production opens Friday at The Frock Shop in Plaza Midwood.

“The play deals with a number of issues: class, sexism, what it means to be traditional versus modern,” she says. She finds the 1893 play “remarkably relevant today.” It deserves an unconventional approach, which is why PaperHouse Theatre is staging it at a boutique.

“We’re extending the story with the idea of theater being an experience,” says PaperHouse founder and show producer Nicia Carla. “We have actors playing ‘the staff’ of the estate (where the play takes place). The first scene happens outside. Our staff will be running (among) the guests, making sure they have refreshments – a cool drink in the shade, or something to nibble.

“For the second scene, we head inside to the parlor. Each scene ends with a flavor that we want you to carry over, or perhaps a palate cleanser to be ready for the next scene. ... It’s a different experience from sitting at home watching ‘Downton Abbey,’ where you can see all the grandeur, but you’re not there.”

Carla notes that the play is as much melodrama as comedy, and each act ends with a bang. In Act 1, sexist Lord Illington casually and cruelly dismisses the title character (his former lover) as “a woman of no importance.”

“Wilde’s dialogue can be presented anywhere at any time,” Parati says of the Irish playwright-poet. “It’s so witty, and the Gemini in me loves his point/counterpoint. His language is like music, and he makes you think.”

Topping the menu of Wilde’s food for thought is the battle of the sexes, says Parati, an issue as important today as in Wilde’s time. “We’re at the point where a strong contender for the presidency is a woman,” she says. “We’re talking about a lot of women’s issues, including reproductive health and equal pay.”

Carla says that the play’s plot revolves around disrespect for the character Mrs. Arbuthnot and her supposedly shameful past. Long before the term was coined, Wilde was lambasting society’s penchant for slut-shaming, a practice not solely confined to men.

“In the story, (Mrs. Arbuthnot) is judged by a younger woman (named) Hester,” Carla says. “But Hester changes her mind, and the relationship goes from judging someone to lifting someone up.”

Carla founded PaperHouse Theatre in 2009 as an artist-driven experimental company. To that end, PaperHouse has staged shows in intimate, nontraditional spaces as well as conventional theaters.

Carla thinks the play’s obscurity compared to Wilde’s other works is a strength. She believes audiences will come to ‘Woman’ with fresh eyes and a capacity for surprise.

“It excited me the first time I read it. There are a lot of female characters, which made me happy. Plus they’re characters of depth,” she says. “No man comes in at the end and saves the day.”

This story was produced as part of the Charlotte Arts Journalism Alliance.


‘A Woman of No Importance’

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday-Sunday and June 12-14.

WHERE: FROCK Shop, 901 Central Ave.

TICKETS: $30 (includes “sips and nibbles”).

DETAILS: www.paperhousetheatre.com.