By Donna Herman
The Show-Off by George Kelly (uncle of actress Grace Kelly) was a big hit in 1924 when it premiered on Broadway. It’s about a self-aggrandizing braggart, Aubrey Piper (Ian Gould) who is a liar and a fop, and holds down a lowly clerk job at the Pennsylvania Railroad. He meets and woos the daughter of a plain spoken, working-class North Philadelphia family, who are aghast that she has fallen for this clearly vain, shallow, idiot. I have to admit a feeling of kinship with the Fisher family of North Philly. I’m perplexed.
The Peccadillo Theater Company is well known for producing classic American theater that isn’t regularly revived in New York City. That’s a huge field to play in, and they’ve done so quite successfully since their inception in 1994. I suppose The Show-Off fits the category, but there’s a reason it’s so little revived, it really isn’t a great play. And what may have been funny and topical in 1924, is nigh unto incomprehensible in 2017. If you took an audience from 2017 and showed them Hamilton, I doubt they’d appreciate it. In the same way, a main character who’s every utterance is speckled with slang like “the said and done,” “right or raving,” “sign on the dotted line,” and “beams and hinges,” and who wears a toupee, isn’t amusing to a 21st Century audience – just confusing.
Although I will admit that the second act is better than the first, the ending is jaw-droppingly ridiculous, and just plain unbelievable. It’s a shame really that so much good work has been put into the production of a play that just can’t reward the effort of either the actors & crew or the audience. The costumes by Barbara A. Bell are gorgeous, and the set by Harry Feiner is deliciously evocative of an outdated and worn, but lovingly cared-for home of the early 1920’s. The period details are wonderful. The leading role in The Show-Off is actually that of the mother of the family, Mrs. Fisher, here played by the exquisite Annette O’Toole. She was completely engrossed in every moment, and reminded me of a mother bird watching over her flock. Tough, but tender, wise and worried, resigned to deal with whatever came her way, she was the quintessential American woman on whose shoulders the weight of the family world resides.
Her children were also impressively portrayed, especially Amy by Emma Orelove. Although I was absolutely repulsed by the character of Aubrey Piper, I completely bought that Amy had truly fallen for him and believed his lies, and could not see that he was exaggerating everything about himself. And that she really thought her family were just prejudiced against him because he came from West Philadelphia. It was kind of astonishing, but believable, how she would just seem to melt when she looked at Aubrey. The elder sister Clara (Elise Hudson) was played with quiet dignity, and a sense of restrained passion that made her an intriguing character. The little brother Joe (Tirosh Schneider), the budding electrical engineer, was charming, natural, and charismatic.
Unfortunately, in the end, I do identify with the Fisher’s in The Show-Off. They cannot understand why Amy has chosen someone who, to them, is so obviously unsuited. I feel the same way about Peccadillo and their choice of The Show-Off.
The Show-Off by George Kelly, Directed by Dan Wackerman
WITH: Elise Hudson (Clara); Annette O’Toole (Mrs. Fisher); Emma Orelove (Amy); Aaron Gaines (Frank Hyland); Ian Gould (Aubrey Piper); Douglas Rees (Mr. Fisher); Tirosh Schneider (Joe); Marvin Bell (Mr. Gill); Buzz Roddy (Mr. Rogers).
Scenic & Lighting Design by Harry Feiner; Costume Design by Barbara A. Bell; Sound Design by Quentin Chiapetta; Wig Design by Paul Huntley; Properties Design by Jessica C. Ayala; Associate Director, Claudia Zahn; Production Stage Manager, David Apichell; Assistant Stage Manager, Bradley Pontius; Casting by Stephanie Klapper, CSA; Production Manager, Drew Francis; Press Representative, Glenna Friedman Public Relations; Marketing by InFocus. Presented by The Peccadillo Theater Company, Artistic Director Dan Wackerman; Managing Director, Kevin Kennedy. At the Theatre at St. Clements, 423 West 46th Street through October 21st. For tickets go to: www.thepeccadillo.com or call Ovationtix at 866-811- 4111.