This review of George Kelly's The Show-Off at Theatre At St. Clement's was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by George Kelly
Directed by Dan Wackerman
Produced by The Peccadillo Theater Company
Scenic & Lighting Design by Harry Feiner
Costume Design by Barbara A. Bell
Sound Design by Quentin Chiappetta
Theatre At St. Clement's
423 West 46th 20 Thomas Street
New York, New York 10036
The Show-Off originally opened on Broadway at The Playhouse Theatre where it ran from February 5, 1924 to June 20, 1925 for a total of 571 performances. There have been five Broadway Revivals, none of which matched the success of the original. They were at the Hudson Theatre (December 12, 1932 to March 4, 1933), the Lafayette Theatre (March 5, 1937 to May 8, 1937), the Arena Theatre (May 31, 1950 to June 17, 1950), the Lyceum Theatre (December 5, 1967 to June 22, 1968), and Criterion Center Stage Right (November 5, 1992 to December 13, 1992). The play is about a working-class Irish family living in North Philadelphia. It is set in late spring, 1924. Josie Fisher (Annette O'Toole) and Neil Fisher (Douglas Rees) have three children: Joey (Tirosh Schneider), who is an aspiring inventor; Clara (Elise Hudson), who lives with her well-to-do, but inattentive, husband Frank Hyland (Aaron Gaines); and Amy (Emma Orelove), who is hopelessly in love with Aubrey Piper (Ian Gould), an obnoxious, but ambitious, dandy from West Philadelphia, who spends money he doesn't have, absent-mindedly fails to renew his driver's license, constantly borrows money he is unable to pay back, gets into all sorts of trouble, and can't even afford to pay the rent. Amy remains oblivious to Aubrey's lies even when the reality of the situation smacks her in the face. Amy & Aubrey eventually marry but Mrs. Fisher still thinks Piper is "a fool and a blatherskite."
The success or failure of a production of The Show-Off depends, in my opinion, on who is cast as Mrs. Fisher and Aubrey Piper. It is their interaction that will make or break the show, and unfortunately, Annette O'Toole and Ian Gould fail to deliver the performances required to engage the audience. I found Ms. O'Toole came across as shrill when she got agitated and Mr. Gould just wasn't charming enough to carry off the role. The play wasn't particularly funny and the first act was an absolute bore. The action did pick up during the second act but you must keep in mind that Mrs. Fisher and Aubrey Piper are both unlikeable characters. Mrs. Fisher has a great prejudice towards the Italians. When asked if she would like to go to an opera, she says, "I have better things to do than to sit and listen to some Dago singer" and when demanding to get properly dressed when going down to the Good Samaritan Hospital after her husband had a stroke, she says, "I'm not going down there looking like a Dago woman." She also wrongly refers to the Samaritan Hospital as "the Jewish hospital." Audrey Piper is equally despicable. You can't believe a word that comes out of his mouth. He constantly lies and repeats lines like "Sign on the dotted line." He claims to be the head of the Freight Department at the Pennsylvania Railroad but is, in fact, only a clerk. One day, he is promoting socialism, talking about Capitalism & Labor, while the next day he is interjecting himself, without permission, into Joey's business to negotiate a better deal for him with those very capitalist overlords he previously despised, being more than willing to share in the monetary windfall of a big corporate deal. There is no promised "battle of wits" that took place between Mrs. Fisher and Aubrey Piper. Aubrey finally does something that has a positive outcome and says, "A little bit of bluff goes a long way."
The set is beautiful and the costumes are period appropriate. There are also some remarkable performances worthy of significant praise. Elise Hudson does a very fine job as Clara. It is a complex role requiring her to express a number of different emotions. In each scene, Ms. Hudson excels. Tirosh Schneider is perfectly cast as Joey. He has great charisma, energy, and enthusiasm. He was a pleasure to watch perform. Emma Orelove is very believable as Amy even though you can see the train wreck coming from a mile away and will certainly find it hard to believe anyone can be that naive. Aaron Gaines was a fine addition to the cast playing Frank Hyland. I definitely would like to see him in a more substantial role and I am pretty certain he would have made a better Aubrey Piper. The remaining cast members (Douglas Rees as Mr. Fisher; Marvin Bell as Mr. Gill; and Buzz Roddy as Mr. Rogers) are all extraordinary and talented actors. But the miscasting of Annette O'Toole as Mrs. Fisher, and Ian Gould as Aubrey Piper, doom this production to second-rate status. If Aaron Gaines was moved into the main role of Aubrey Piper and the Director worked more with the obviously talented Ms. O'Toole to get the tone right, then this production might have some promise. As it stands, Mrs. Fisher acts as if she is constantly annoyed at one thing or the other, which doesn't make this play a pleasant experience for anyone.
This limited engagement of The Show-Off at Theatre at St. Clement's runs through Saturday, October 21, 2017. The performance schedule is Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m.; Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets cost $49.00 and can be purchased by calling Ovationtix at 866-811-4111 or by visiting www.thepeccadillo.com