Everybody, smile!, Illinois Theatre Center. A parody of the alcoholic literary genius, the bitter, self-centered curmudgeon at the center of this play is more in touch with his own fictions than with his family, talking to himself with the elongated vowels and dropped rs of a 19th-century elocutionist. When his teenage daughter announces her plans to marry a Hollywood comedian 41 years her senior, he stubbornly denounces them both. Any situational or character resemblances to Eugene O’Neill or to Charlie Chaplin, who married O’Neill’s daughter Oona under similar circumstances in 1943, are quite intentional.

N. Richard Nash, whose romantic comedy The Rainmaker continues to be a popular favorite, might have made something of this timeworn scandal–there must be a lesson somewhere in one famous old goat calling another one perverse. But neither Nash nor the Illinois Theatre Center’s world-premiere production appears to find much that’s immediate or exciting in this lugubrious family drama. Nash even has his windy patriarch address us directly, a device apparently intended to make the actor-audience dynamic more intimate. It doesn’t.

If tears are meant to battle laughter in Everybody, Smile!, then laughter wins in the first round, chiefly due to David Perkovich’s charming performance as the Chaplinesque actor and director. But after that we have to endure two humorless hours of his opponent’s shadowboxing.

–Mary Shen Barnidge