By Garson Kanin. Directed by Shelby Bushell and Michael Scholar Jr. An Ensemble Theatre Company production. At the Jericho Arts Centre on Saturday, July 13. Continues until August 15
Born Yesterday, by the Ensemble Theatre Company, features a lot of people sitting around and talking disinterestedly about business, politics, and romance.
Characters often wander back and forth without enough intent, giving tepid line deliveries.
The problems are direction-related, with stiff blocking, awkward comedic timing, and the major themes of the show glanced over. As a result, directors Shelby Bushell and Michael Scholar, Jr. fail to breathe life into this 1946 comedy-drama.
Harry Brock (Paul Herbert) is a wealthy junk magnate who has come to Washington, D.C., to negotiate a shady business deal with a senator. Worried that his ditzy, ex-showgirl girlfriend Billie Dawn (Alexis Kellum-Creer) will embarrass him, he hires reporter Paul Verral (Tariq Leslie) to educate her, Pygmalion-style. But as Dawn learns more and more about the world, she becomes aware of just how corrupt Brock is, and how freedom and power really work in America.
There are highlights from both leads. Kellum-Creer gives some measure of charm to her performance, especially in the beginning of Act 2, when the focus is on Dawn. This is where she hits her stride after being something of a caricature in Act 1, and she gives a spirited performance that the audience can invest in.
Herbert has moments of exuberance as the over-the-top Brock, and sells his jokes decently well. He’s also satisfyingly scummy when the time comes, and even manages a pretty good Jersey accent.
But both actors suffer under the general limpness of the production; they don't really demonstrate how their characters are feeling or give them an emotional arc through the story, and that ends up sapping their enthusiasm. It then becomes difficult to buy in when they give speeches about their outlook on life and morality.
As the supporting cast, playing Brock’s sleazy hangers-on and some hotel staff, Kellum-Creer and Leslie have sparks of chemistry in their halfhearted romance, but nothing lasting.
As for the costumes, they were clearly made with an eye toward period accuracy, but many of them looked too big for the actors.
There are also the bizarre scenes when Brock gets violent; the stage lights turn green, and the actors move in slow motion, trying to give the moment tension—but it just looks silly. Also, during the most severe of these, when Harry hits Paul in the face with a massive dictionary, none of the other characters react with emotion. At what should be its dramatic climax, the show feels at its most feeble.
There’s some genuine talent lurking here, but it’s difficult for actors to commit to a show when there isn't much purpose for them to commit to.