Producers revived George Kelly’s The Show-Off (1924) in 1967. Then, the Broadway production starred icon Helen Hayes as the matriarch of the Fisher family. Clearly, one can imagine her delivery of the in-your-face insults shot at her daughter’s “puffed up” husband, Aubrey. Again revived in 1992, and currently in revival at Theater at St. Clement’s, Kelly’s humor attracts. Perhaps, this is because we all despise “show-offs” like Aubrey Piper.
Indeed, the present times disfavor such behavior on Social Media accounts of celebrities and former reality stars. Thus, humility, apologies and truthfulness remain praiseworthy. When boastful individuals clearly lie and defraud, we mock them. As is inevitable a bragging, gasbag character cannot be acceptable. Thus, how a playwright and director balance our distaste for a blowhard throughout three acts requires skill. Kelly’s writing shows skill. Director Dan Wackerman reveals a sensitivity to this problem.
However, astute acting handles the potential issues of our annoyance. Because braggarts must be brought to account, we hunger for their comeuppance. Indeed, humorous insults directed at them relieves us. Moreover, we remain in suspense to hear every barb, every ironic comment directed their way.
Through the clever irony and sarcasm of a vital character we admire (Mother Fisher), we are able to put up with show-off Aubrey Piper. Indeed, casting the irrepressible Annette O’Toole seems enlightened. Certainly, as Mrs. Fisher, Piper’s electric cow prod, OToole propels the production. Thankfully, her feisty performance stirs the pot of laughter and moves the character dynamic toward conclusion. And what of blowhard (Ian Gould), and his sweet, unsuspecting wife Amy (Emma Orelove)? These actor portrayals meld with O’Toole’s and the rest of the ensemble. Also, Clara (Elise Hudson), as Amy’s knowing, caring sister deserves mention for her poignant portrait of an unloved wife.
Additionally, the costumes, sets, lighting, staging enhance our understanding of the time period along with Mrs. Fisher’s raw ethnic slurs, current for the time (1920s). Kudos to the creative team of designers who brought these elements of theater spectacle into unity with the arc of the play’s development.
The Show-Off, currently at Theatre at St. Clement’s (423 West 46 Street), runs until 21 October.