Review: Ego Knows No Bounds in Peccadillo’s Entertaining The Show-Off
By Miles Harter, Contributing Writer, September 29, 2017
A comedy of family and manners set in the mid-1920s, The Show-Off was first produced on Broadway in 1924. The play was the most successful of the many works of the accomplished playwright George Kelly, and also the basis of four movies. Kelly grew up in Philadelphia and was the one of 10 children in an Irish-American family. He was the brother of Olympic sculler John B. Kelly, and the uncle of Olympic rower John B. Kelly, Jr. and, most famously, actress Grace Kelly.
The play revolves around Aubrey Piper, an egotistical, lying, self-deluded, pretentious, businessman with an obvious toupee. Yes, as even the program notes recognize, Aubrey bears an uncanny resemblance to a certain luminary who now resides in Washington, DC. So at first glance, this play in which the action takes place nearly a century ago might seem to offer an escape from modern travails. But the play’s themes are (uncomfortably) timeless.
The story is set in the somewhat shabby drawing room of the home of the working class Fisher family of Philadelphia. The family decidedly does not live in the Blue Line enclave represented in the film High Society (the musical version of Philip Barry’s play The Philadelphia Story) that starred Grace Kelly. The Fisher parents are Neil and Josie Fisher, and their three children are Clara, Amy, and Joe. Aubrey Piper is the not-entirely-welcome beau of Amy. The play focuses on his efforts in bulldozing his way into the Fisher family, and the responses of the various family members, especially Josie and Joe, continually delight the audience.
Modern audiences can’t avoid seeing the parallels of Aubrey to other hucksters who have taken in so many people, but Mrs. Fisher in particular is not fooled. The celebrated film and TV actress Annette O’Toole thoroughly inhabits her role as “Mother Fisher,” the moniker that Aubrey prematurely gives her. She is apparently not highly educated, but makes pithy and memorable observations about men, socialism, wearing wigs, and, especially and ironically, talking too much.
Ian Gould is eerily good as the self-deluded Aubrey Piper — a character we initially love to hate. Gould is appropriately pompous and boastful, and dominates most conversations. Tirosh Schneider as Joe also stands out as the bright-eyed and good-hearted teenage whiz kid. In an ingenious subplot, Joe appears to be on the brink of a new scientific breakthrough. Schneider skillfully causes the audience to root for him and a new generation of the Fishers of Philadelphia.
The Show-Off, presented by The Peccadillo Theater Company at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 West 46th Street, through Saturday, October 21. Written by George Kelly. Directed by Dan Wackerman; scenic and lighting design by Harry Feiner; costume design by Barbara A. Bell; sound design by Quentin Chiappetta; wig design by Paul Huntley; properties design by Jessica C. Ayala. Cast: Marvin Bell, Aaron Gaines, Ian Gould, Elise Hudson, Emma Orelove, Annette O’Toole, Douglas Rees, Buzz Roddy, and Tirosh Schneider.
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Cover: Annette O’Toole, and Ian Gould in ‘The Show-Off’;’ photo: Jeremy Daniel.