NEW YORK–If there is any reason at all to revive George Kelly’s 1924 snoozer “The Show-Off” in 1992, it is nowhere in evidence in the enervating revival that kicks off the Roundabout Theater’s 27th season. A fine comedy director cannot mask its emptiness, and a veteran quartet, half of which is miscast, cannot breathe any life into it.
A Philadelphia story absent Philip Barry, “The Show-Off” was a monster hit in its time, running nearly 600 performances. It’s about a middle-class Irish family whose younger daughter Amy (Sophie Hayden, casting error No. 1) falls for and finally marries the aptly named Aubrey Piper (Boyd Gaines, casting error No. 2), a nattering nabob of optimism.
Aubrey is an irritant to the rest of the family, especially the matriarch (Pat Carroll), a plain-spoken woman who cannot resist a fight with Aubrey even as her own husband (Richard Woods) lays dying in a hospital following a stroke.
Hayden was too old for Rosabella in last season’s “The Most Happy Fella” revival, yet she triumphed by virtue of a wonderful voice that projected openness, warmth and trust as her acting revealed a woman who’d lived some. Here , however, she hardly seems younger than Laura Esterman’s older sister Clara, and her emotional palette seems limited to wide-eyed girlishness and brow-furrowing consternation.
Aubrey is a character who doesn’t really exist in nature; he’s a comic event. Gaines has his false extravagance down, but the character needs more than that–a glimpse into the heart of a man so uncomfortable in his own skin that he seems constantly on the verge of leaping out of it. That, too, won’t be found here.
Esterman also is problematic as the sister who married into money and envies Amy even as Aubrey exasperates her; Esterman, all limbs and sinew, is a little too high-strung for this crowd. And yet there are several moments when she strikes a pose of such delicate grace that one realizes one has been staring at her while the play has moved elsewhere.
Perhaps Carroll wanted to do something conventional after playing a series of colorful roles — notably Falstaff and the voice of Ursula, the fleshy, tentacular sea witch in “The Little Mermaid.” But conventional is all she is here. Even when sparring with Gaines, there’s no fire in the performance.
Director Brian Murray’s comedic gift fails him; the production lacks urgency as well as wit, though there are nice contributions from Tim DeKay and Kevin McClarnon.
Ben Edward’s serviceable livingroom set is considerably below his usual standard. Most of David Charles’ costumes are unflattering at best and ugly at worst.
If someone can figure out what the point of all this was, we’d love to know.