Jewel Box’s ‘Born Yesterday’ boasts strong performances and some laughs, but also schizophrenia

Born Yesterday
8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, through March 28
Jewel Box Theatre
First Christian Church
3700 N. Walker
http://www.jewelboxtheatre.org
521-1786
$15 adults, $10 students

In its second play in a row focusing on the value of intelligence and the freedom, power and responsibility that come with knowledge, Jewel Box tackles the world of ambitious tycoons, corrupt politicians and those who would stand against them in “Born Yesterday.”

In 1948, junkyard tycoon Harry Brock has come to Washington, D.C., to buy a senator and push through legislation that will make it easier for him to cash in on the scrap-metal market in post-WWII Europe. In an effort to make a good impression on the Washington elite, he hires refined journalist Paul Verall to teach his ditzy ex-girlfriend, Billie Dawn, some manners.

Not limiting himself to etiquette, Verall teaches Billie about history, class structure, politics and, most importantly, her value as a person. Newly empowered by knowledge, Billie turns Harry’s world upside down.

Chaotic staging early in Act 1 makes settling in difficult. Things aren’t helped by the strong, but strikingly different performances; audiences may not know how they’re supposed to react to the material. Is it a screwball comedy? A clever satire? A play about domestic abuse?

Things drastically improve in Act 2, aided by Hillary Finch’s welcome transformation as Billie, from annoyingly squeaky object of desire to a beautiful woman of emerging intelligence and class, not afraid to go up against the menacing Brock. This act also benefits from the strong chemistry between Finch and Cody Pepper as Verall. He could be a bore to watch, if not for Pepper’s cool delivery.

Glen Hallstrom is a force of nature as Brock. His physically towering stature is intimidating enough, but add to that a “Sopranos”-style intensity and you’ve got an immensely watchable performance, creating a sense of danger and tension in the room. While exciting, there’s one problem with all this: It really isn’t that kind of play.

As Sen. Hedges’ wife, Jackie Smola gets some of the play’s biggest laughs, completely stealing her one scene.

In all, there’s still plenty to like in “Born Yesterday”: strong performances, some wonderful scenes, and subject matter that’s unfortunately just as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.“”Eric Webb

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