Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Show-Off

There is a unique satisfaction that comes from watching a solid revival of a well-made play from the early or middle 20th century. This is why I have long been a fan of The Mint Theater Company; it is also why I have just become a fan of The Peccadillo Theater Company.

O'Toole, Hudson
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
The Peccadillo's production of George Kelly's odd but effective comedy, The Show-Off, is more than solid. It is wry and real, and it manages to show the play's relevance to today while never betraying its place in the past. Written in 1924, The Show-Off tells the tale of a reasonably functional family that is thrown off-kilter when Amy, the younger daughter, falls in love with Aubrey Piper, a genial, hyper-friendly, lying, manipulative con man. He is not a con man in terms of scamming people in particular ways or using set methods of fraud. Instead, he improvises as he goes, relying heavily on cheerful lies and Amy's besotted gullibility. The rest of her family see right through him, plus they know that he is a clerk rather than the supervisor he claims to be. (He also has a laugh that would cause a hyena to put its paws in its ears.) Amy's mother, father, and sister refrain from criticizing Aubrey, when they can help it; they know that their censure only pushes Amy further into his arms.

The weakness of The Show-Off, at least in this production, is that you have to accept that Amy would be--could be--so blind as not to see Aubrey for who he is. Ian Gould's take on the role, while amusing, is so broad that it makes Amy seem flat-out stupid to love him. But if you're willing to accept the premise that she does, indeed, adore him, then the play works like the proverbial well-oiled machine.

Kelly's excellent writing is fabulously supported by Dan Wackerman's direction and the wonderful acting of, in particular, Annette O'Toole as Amy's humorously frustrated mother Mrs. Fisher and Elise Hudson as Amy's sister Clara, who cannot figure out why her husband doesn't quite love her. (The answer is clear to a modern audience and probably was pretty clear to one in the 1920s as well.)

The design elements are all attractive and effective: scenic and lighting design by Harry Feiner, costume design by Barbara A. Bell, sound design by Quentin Chiappetta, and properties design by Jessica C. Ayala. Particular kudos are due to Paul Huntley for his wonderful wigs, which do not call attention to themselves and completely support the sense that Amy, Clara, and their mother are indeed related to one another.

I had heard of the Peccadillo Theater Company, but since in New York City you can't see everything (hell, you can't even make a dent), I had never caught one of their productions. I will be sure to catch them in the future.

Wendy Caster
(front orchestra, taken by a friend)

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