By Susan Granger
Even with the best of intentions, sometimes a play turns out to be less than a sum of its parts. The current revival of this antiquated dramedy is a case-in-point.
Before he became best known as Grace Kelly’s uncle, playwright George Kelly churned out vintage Americana; other plays include “The Torch Bearers” (1922) and “Craig’s Wife” (1925), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. Director Nicholas Martin recently won a Tony nomination for Broadway’s hit comedy, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” Veteran actress Jane Houdyshell has accumulated a long list of theatrical achievements. Will Rogers is a talented young actor. And scenic designer Alexander Dodge knows how to visually encapsulate an era in time.
Yet their efforts are for naught in this tiresome, often repetitious evening of theater. Set in the parlor of a North Philadelphia home in the 1920s, the story revolves around the trials and tribulations of a middle-class family, the Fishers. When their younger daughter Amy (Clea Alsip) falls in love with Pennsylvania Railroad clerk and Aubrey Piper (Will Rogers) descends upon them. Full of bluster and braggadocio, he’s the titular show-off. Problem is: he’s also an irritating, insufferable bore, someone with whom you certainly don’t want to spend two-and-a-half hours.
According to Associate Artistic Director David Kennedy, what distinguishes “The Show-Off” is that it prized character over plot and forsook many of the narrative cliches of its time to embrace a depiction of the rhythms and details of life as it is actually lived. Unfortunately, however, Aubrey Piper, as depicted by Will Rogers, is obnoxious. And he doesn’t have to be. Given a different director and/or different actor, there could be an underlying layer of sympathy, or even endearment, with Aubrey.
The supporting cast including Mia Barron, Nat DeWolf, Robert Eli, Adam Lefevre, Karl Baker Olson, and Marc Vietor - struggles valiantly against the slowly descending tedium.
Mercifully, “The Show-Off” will play only until June 29 at the Westport Country Playhouse.