By Roz Friedman
You can have the best director, Nicholas Martin, who just won a Tony nomination, a good cast led by Jane Houdyshell, a great set designer, Douglas Hodge, and the play can fall flat! At the Westport Country Playhouse, The Show-Off is a play written in 1924 by George Kelly, Grace Kelly's uncle; this comedy set in Philadelphia, which AD Mark Lamos loves and Heywood Brown called the best comedy yet, seemed a dour exercise. I do not mind its almost three hours with two intermissions, although it could use editing. The laughter in the parlor demanded all our patience. Also, for this to work, the timing has to be right on, lickety split -- and it wasn't on Sunday, June 16.
Jane Houdyshell is a wonderful actress; she has won awards for both dramas and musicals. Here, her role as a rather naïve Mrs. Fisher, wife, mother and mother-in-law, is enormous; but, going up on her lines is not a good thing. Fisher has a lot happening to her: her daughter, Amy, is dating Aubrey Piper, a loud-mouthed phony boaster, whom no one can stand except Amy, played gracefully by blond Clea Alsip. Will Rogers adopts a strange accent for the role of Aubrey, which is annoying. Now, he is supposed to be annoying; but with a touch of endearment that is missing here. Older daughter, Clara, the impressive, dark-haired Mia Barron, is married to Frank Hyland (Robert Eli), who reports that Aubrey is just a clerk, not the head of a department as he claims.
Between the first and second act, Aubrey and Amy marry, and in the second act suffer from the lack of money, as mother Fisher predicts would happen. Despite their severe problems, Aubrey won't let his wife work, obviously a sign of the times. Meanwhile, the dad of the family, acted with quiet strength by Adam LeFevre, dies suddenly at work. Clara admits to her mom that she and Frank, who is generous to Aubrey through tough times, do not share a loving marriage, as does her sister. Aubrey does not seem to be upset when he gets into a bad car accident and is fined $1000. In fact, he intimates to a co-worker of his deceased father-in-law that he owns this house; an out and out lie!
So the punch line is far from credible. When brother Joe, (cheerful Karl Baker Olson), finally succeeds in selling his invention, Aubrey takes credit for the negotiation. Buying into that premise takes a lot of faith. There was a woman in front of me who never stopped laughing, proving that humor is very personal.
The Show-Off at WCP will play through June 29.
(This review originally aired on WMNR Fine Arts radio.)