Ensemble Theatre Company
7th Annual Repertory Festival
Born Yesterday by Garson Kanin

Dates and Venue July 10 – August 16, 2019 at 7.30 pm (Brunch presentations at 11am on Sundays) | Jericho Arts Centre, 1675 Discovery St

Directors Shelby Bushell & Michael Scholar Jr. Costume Design Julie White Lighting Design Celeste English Set Design Naomi Sider Sound Design Rick Calhoun Dialect Coach Erin Ormond Fight Director Richard Meen Stage Manager Talya Kuran

Reviewer John Jane

Born Yesterday is a socio-political drama set in Washington D.C. about a year after the end of World War II, which is the time that the play was written by Garson Kanin. It’s one of three plays performed at this year’s Annual Repertory Festival at the Jericho Arts Centre.

Directors Shelby Bushell and Michael Scholar Jr. have, thankfully, made no attempt to update Kanin’s work to a modern setting. Even Julie White’s period accurate clothing and Naomi Sider’s attractive set of an elegant hotel suite, where all the action takes place, are faithfully redolent of time and place.

Nor is there a desire to make this mounting of Born Yesterday a piece of nostalgic theatre – quite the opposite in fact. As with the original, the play offers those of us who delight in cheering for the underdog and their inevitable triumph over an apparently more powerful bully, a charming coup de théâtre.

Billie Dawn is the archetypal brassy blonde, played with alarming aplomb by demure brunette Alexis Kellum-Creer wearing a rather obvious blonde wig – she’s long on legs, short on syllables – a stereo-type that was notoriously over-used in post-war Hollywood. The former chorus girl has learned that a pathway to success usually means playing down intellect. She suffers verbal and physical abuse by a man that isn’t her husband, nor even wants to be.

Harry Brock (Paul Herbert) is an uncouth, hard-nosed blowhard, who, through equal parts luck and suspect business practice has forced his way to the top in dealing scrap metals. Harry sees Billie more as an employee than a girlfriend and as such she ‘enjoys’ a similar tyrannical relationship as do others in his entourage (“I hire and fire geniuses everyday”). Billie at least gets rewarded materially – she “owns two fur coats” – but she is smart enough to realize that her uneven relationship with Harry will be nullified the moment she loses her appeal.

The action on stage begins with hotel staff scurrying around with final preparations to the tastefully furnished suite that Harry and Billie are soon to occupy. He is in Washington with his lawyer Jim Devery (David Wallace) and his gopher Eddie (Steve James) to broker preferential legislation with the aid of a corrupt lawmaker. Into this unholy mix steps forth subversive journalist Paul Verrall (Tariq Leslie), who takes on Billie’s political literacy to Harry’s eventual detriment.

Paul Herbert is stellar in a very physical performance as the rambunctious Harry Brock and even gets a handle on the Jersey accent. But while he is omnipresent and draws all the oxygen in the room, the story belongs to Billie. Her enlightenment and personal growth helps her regain ownership of her spirit and turn the tables on Harry.

David Wallace and Steve James as Harry’s reluctant peons provide support. Tariq Leslie, despite a solid effort in his role of the earnest Paul Verrall, seems to be miscast as Billie’s go-to lover.

Born Yesterday is an interesting character study and certainly well worth a look. It even comes with healthy dose of humour.

© 2019 John Jane