The American Legacy
220 East Fourth Street ~ New York, New York 10009
Office: 212 995 8410 ~ Tickets: 212 995 5302
"One of my favorite downtown theaters" ~ Martin Denton, nytheatre.com
|Reviews - The
Reviewed for nytheatre.com by Martin Denton
October 5, 2002
It's interesting: plays like Eugene O'Neill's Beyond the Horizon (1920) feel like vestiges of long ago, while George Kelly's 1924 comedy The Show-Off feels modern and timely. Sure, there are references that date the play: a gadget called a "wireless" is a curiosity; people talk about earning $130 a month, and so on. But the characters that Kelly captures so acutely aren't at all old-fashioned; in fact, they're archetypes for ways of thinking that come off as highly contemporary. And the attitudes that Kelly aptly satirizes here—provincialism vs. get-rich-quick—remain very much with us today.
That's why Metropolitan Playhouse does us such a service in reviving The Show-Off just now. As we struggle to figure out where the heck we are, it's useful to find out where we've been—and to discover that we haven't wandered nearly so far off as we may have suspected.
The Show-Off of the play's title is Aubrey Piper, a young man who works as an ordinary clerk at the Pennsylvania Railroad but fancies himself a tycoon-in-the-making. Aubrey is a blowhard, and a liar: he exaggerates his position and his salary and his contributions on the job to impress his girlfriend, a besotted young woman who ought to know better named Amy Fisher. Not that it really matters to Aubrey who his audience is: he's just as apt to tell a perfect stranger that his mother-in-law's house is his own and that she lives there on his graces. When Aubrey gets into an automobile accident, his main concern is that his name is in the papers.
Though Amy is taken in by Aubrey's big talk, the rest of her family is not. Chief among Aubrey's detractors is Amy's outspoken mother, a provincial and unsophisticated woman who shares Aubrey's love of endless, meaningless gab though she'd never realize it let alone admit it. There's no love lost between Aubrey and Amy's father, certainly; likewise, Amy's brother Joe, a would-be inventor who fiddles around with radios and rustproofing formulas, and her sister Clara, the unhappily married wife of a successful businessman, see right through Aubrey's posing.
Kelly messes with his audience by making Aubrey and Mrs. Fisher, who are the most interesting of his characters, also the most unpleasant. They're extreme examples of the All American Types that they exemplify: Kelly holds up a mirror, as 'twere, and lets us laugh at the worst of our national character: either we're pretending to be smarter than we really are, or we're just plain ignorant. Chances are, you know someone just like Aubrey Piper and someone else who reminds you of Mrs. Fisher. These folks aren't going anywhere.
So The Show-Off is funny; but it's also pointed: Kelly messes with us some more by having one of Aubrey's bright ideas pay off at the eleventh hour. He also lets us see that Aubrey's dreams of glory have their romantic aspect: his boundless enthusiasm and Mrs. Fisher's pragmatic skepticism are flip sides of the coin that is American character—we need 'em both.
Yvonne Conybeare's production is as edgy as the material allows. Tod Mason mines Aubrey's irritating qualities at the expense of his charm, making him, deliberately, a fellow who's hard to like. Susan Glausen Smith similarly plays up Mrs. Fisher's natural small-mindedness; Conybeare doesn't want us to miss any of Kelly's satiric intent. The rest of the cast plays it straight, and generally to great success: particularly impressive are Andrew Firda as budding-genius brother Joe, Sarah Dandridge as sad-but-worldly sister Clara, and Greg Harr as a stranger named Mr. Gill, who is absolutely vital to the plot but otherwise entirely unimportant.
As is always the case for a Metropolitan Playhouse show, the production values are outstanding for off-off-Broadway, with a homey and appropriate setting by Dan Nichols and attractive, evocative costumes by Ingrid Maurer. Sound design by Alex Roe and Conybeare establishes period perfectly.