The Peccadillo Theater Co., makes revivals of neglected American plays its specialty, and has mounted a new production of George Kelly’s “The Show-Off” at the Theatre at St. Clement’s.
A peculiar disconnect in the artistic choices here does little to help an audience understand why the show was such a hit in the 1920s and the inspiration for three Hollywood films.
The crux of the play is a battle of will and wits, of mom versus interloper, in Philadelphia, 1924. Ian Gould plays the rascal, and Annette O’Toole the prospective mother-in-law. From the outset, we know the mother is opposed to the suitor, who is not only living beyond his means, but also possibly wile enough to make it profitable.
The part requires a charm that must radiate on both sides of the footlights. Gould lands nowhere close, and comes off as a well-dressed oaf. The script gives him a tremendous build-up and great opportunity for nuance and deceit, but this show-off has nothing to show except some cloying, one-note bluster.
O’Toole is trapped in the action, which is dominated by her dependence upon news from the outside and the constant flow in and out of the front parlor. Like the title role, this part demands a gifted comic. O’Toole plays it as a pinched busybody.
No touch is not a light touch, and director Dan Wackerman abandons his principles in a flurry of empty-stage business, and cannot resurrect the obligatory thuds of the play’s clockwork. Charisma and chemistry, no matter how off-beat — and, perhaps, the more off-beat the better — are the only solutions to the musty confines of the exposition here.
Luckily some of the cast is up to the challenge. Elise Hudson brightens everything with her sharp choices in the role of the older daughter. Wisely, she enlarges the perspective with her cheery, infectious dismay.
In lesser roles, Douglas Rees and Tirosh Schneider put a keen outline on their moments, as does Marvin Bell in his. As the snookered bride, Emma Orelove flounders in the musty ingénue blueprint of Kelly’s writing. Here again is a case where more inspired casting might transform the proceedings into the comic personality slugfest it deserves.
It should be a froth, with the cobwebbed plot devices, like the hoary business of coats and umbrellas, and who-said-what as part of the comedy. But this Jell-O just won’t jiggle.
The lavish designs of this production are a stark contrast to the fumbles of the lead actors. Harry Feiner fills the wide St. Clement’s stage with a rambling, naturalistic household, with abundant books and knick-knacks. And Barbara A. Bell’s costumes also capture the bygone era in fine style.
If only the casting and direction were as inspired as those designs, this production might be a jaunty escape from 2017 America, and its own share of fabulist windbags.