“The Show-Off,” Westport County Playhouse

--Irene Backalenick

Certainly the 1924 comedy, “The Show-Off,” is a historically significant piece -- a landmark in the history of American theater. Playwright George Kelly, in his time, played a significant role in propelling theater from the 19th century melodramas into the real world.

But does “The Show-Off” speak to today’s audiences?

The current Westport Country Playhouse production is put to the test -- and comes off as a mixed bag, with its pros and cons. The play itself, is indeed entertaining, offering a lead character -- namely, a braggart, a type which never goes out of date. Characters are well-defined, dialogue is brisk and believable, and the plot is tightly-woven. Moreover, Kelly gives a twist to the play’s ending, which proves a delightful surprise.

Unfortunately, it is the production itself which falters. Whether director Nicholas Martin or the actor himself is to blame, Will Rogers, in the title role, is a disaster. Swaggering about the stage, mumbling, cackling, Rogers makes mush of Kelly’s solid material. Any other interpretation would have been preferable. Rogers’ fellow performers -- particularly the excellent Jane Houdyshell and the young actress Clea Alsip- -- rescue “Show-Off” from total shipwreck. And director Martin keeps it moving at a lively clip. But since the braggart commands so much of the verbiage, other efforts, however admirable, cannot keep this ship off the rocks.

What, specifically, is “The Show-Off” about? The Fishers are a close-knit family, dominated by the mother, and are horrified when daughter Amy (Alsip) marries Aubrey (Rogers). Amy is blinded by love, but not so her siblings or mother. Tensions mount and explode when the young couple moves into the family home.

It would be unfair to disclose the plot’s resolution. But does that warrant a trip to the Westport Country Playhouse? A wiser plan might be to wait for another production down the road.

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com

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