‘The Show-Off’ at The American Century Theater by David Friscic

The American Century Theater’s (TACT) vital and esteemed tradition of producing classic American plays of the 20th Century continues with playwright George Kelly’s venerable chestnut The Show-Off. Under the leadership and Artistic Direction of Jack Marshall, TACT has a very commendable reputation for meticulous recreation of American period pieces.

The somewhat convoluted plot mainly revolves around the characters’ various reactions to the “Show-Off” of the title.  As the press release to the show so aptly sums it up: “Egotistical braggart Aubrey Piper blows into the lives of the Fishers, regaling them with fantastic tales of his past success and bright future while winning the heart of daughter Amy The family’s attempts to cope with this master exaggerator,and his endeavors to set the record straight when caught in his own fabrications, made this 1926 parlor comedy a hit Broadway show and twice-produced film.”

From the technical standpoint, there is hardly any theatre group that does a better job of recreating period ambiance. Indeed, the set  is one of the stars of this piece  and is replete with warm brown tones, molding and paneling exquisitely set in place against green walls. Kudos to Scenic Designer Leigh-Ann Friedel and Master Carpenter Jonathan Hudspeth.

Erin E. McGuff (Amy), David Gram (Aubrey), Piper; Evan Crump (Joe), Jenna Berk (Clara), and Lee Mikeska Gardner (Mrs. Fisher). Photo by Johannes Markus.
Erin E. McGuff (Amy), David Gram (Aubrey Piper), Evan Crump (Joe), Jenna Berk (Clara), and Lee Mikeska Gardner (Mrs. Fisher). Photo by Johannes Markus.

The pivotal character of the “show off” Aubrey played by David Gram hits all the right notes of obnoxiousness and slickness bordering on imbecility but his performance is eclipsed by the brilliant multi-layered playing of Lee Mikeska Gardner as Mrs. Fisher. Gardner’s acting is a master class in reaction, interaction and physical authority. Gardner changes moods so fluidly and naturally and is by turns alternately charming, harsh, sardonic and querulous. Especially powerful are her scenes in disagreement with Gram. Evan Crump as Joe and Joe Cronin as Mr. Rogers are the other standouts in the cast.

Lee Mikeska Garner (Mrs. Fisher). Photo by Johannes Markus.
Lee Mikeska Garner (Mrs. Fisher). Photo by Johannes Markus.

I heartily commend the fact that Director Stephen Jarrett directs this piece with such respect for each line of text but he overplays his hand with such a slowly- paced production which runs well over two hours and the pauses between lines are much too drawn out. There is nothing wrong with respect for the text but not at the expense of such a long, plodding pace. This piece demands crisp and energetic direction to offset the very workmanlike and solid craftsmanship of the writing.

The American Century Theater’s Show-Off must be seen for its superb performance by Lee Mikeska Gardner and Leigh-Ann Friedel’s  beautiful set.


The Show-Off plays through February 2, 2013 at The American Century Theater at Theatre II in the Gunston Arts Center – 2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington,VA. For tickets, call (703) 998-4555, or purchase them online.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.


  1. I challenge anyone to produce a 3 act 1920’s play with two intermissions in less than two hours. The reviewer was watching the clock when he should have been watching the show. The line pick-ups are lightning quick in Jarrett;s direction. If there are pauses—a wife should have a moment to reflect on the fact that her husband has died; a pause is unavoidable if the playwright is showing us that a husband is so distracted that he doesn’t even hear his wife when she is talking to him——they are demanded by the script, integrity, and fairness to the playwright—and George Kelly deserves the respect. Three act comedies usually have a slowish first act to set up the story, and there’s not a thing a director can do other than cast compelling actors who are interesting to watch even before all Hell breaks loose….and Stephen did that.
    As the company’s artistic director, I’ve watched directors deal with this issue many times. Sometimes we have failed—not with “The Show-Off.”

    The criticism of the direction is inaccurate and unfair.

  2. Jack, you just got a four-star review. Please try to rise above reactionary arm-waving when a variety of opinions come out. I’m sure the show is good — the review says so — which is why patrons will buy tickets, not because of declarations from the company’s execs. I imagine Jarrett, as a professional, doesn’t take sporadic critique quite so personally.

    Babara MacKay of the Washington Examiner feels the same way: “There is a problem of pacing in this “Show-Off.” Acts one and two seem to drag, because Stephen Jarrett directs unevenly, sometimes letting Aubrey’s manic personality run the action,sometimes letting long pauses fill the stage.”

    Hunter Styles of DC Theatre Scene: “So be patient during the first scenes, when nothing much happens (one early scene places several long minutes of focus onto a newly-arrived box of bonbons, to no particularly effect) because things do speed up a bit once the bombastic Aubrey Piper (David Gram) arrives, eagerly prodding at the playwright’s neatly arranged dramatic dominos.”


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