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Review: A ‘Show-Off’ Who Doesn’t Know When to Shut Up


Annette O’Toole, far left, with Emma Orelove and Ian Gould in “The Show-Off.”

Jeremy Daniel

The title character of George Kelly’s 1924 play “The Show-Off” is a boasting buffoon named Aubrey Piper — a vain, dissembling blowhard with an obvious toupee and galloping delusions of grandeur. Spencer Tracy starred as Aubrey in the comedy’s second movie adaptation, Red Skelton in the third, but the team behind the play’s current Off Broadway revival seems to have taken inspiration from another star altogether.

A note tucked into the program at the Theater at St. Clement’s coyly likens Aubrey to “a well-known political figure of our day.” I don’t know about you, but I’m guessing they mean the guy who was the boss on “The Apprentice” before he moved into the White House this year.


Mr. Gould, left, with Marvin Bell, plays the pompous title character in “The Show-Off.”

Jeremy Daniel

It’s an intriguing thought, but it doesn’t really gain traction in Dan Wackerman’s disjointed production for the Peccadillo Theater Company. Its chief asset is Annette O’Toole as Mrs. Fisher, an unpretentious Philadelphian whose younger daughter, Amy (Emma Orelove), is inexplicably besotted with Aubrey (Ian Gould) — believing his lie that he is a bigwig at the Pennsylvania Railroad, rather than a mere clerk making $32.50 a week.

As he hangs about the Fisher parlor, blathering into the wee hours, Mrs. Fisher knits furiously in the next room, unable to stop their courtship, which becomes an engagement, which becomes a marriage. Aubrey is pretty much the last person she would want in the family — her husband (Douglas Rees) can’t even bear to be around this hearty backslapper who could bore the paint off the walls — yet here he is.

On a comfortably lived-in set by Harry Feiner, Ms. O’Toole gives a resolutely naturalistic performance, and so does the charming Tirosh Schneider as Joe, Mrs. Fisher’s dreamily science-minded son. The dramatic sparks between Ms. O’Toole and Mr. Schneider suggest what the production might have been if all of the principals were operating on the same aesthetic plane.

Instead, there is an awkward jumble of acting styles: classic Hollywood for the Fisher daughters, Amy and especially the glamorous Clara (Elise Hudson); the broadest of broad comedy for Aubrey, whose appeal to Amy, or to anyone, remains a mystery even as other characters soften toward him.

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