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Published: Thursday, 2/26/2004

Old standard still entertaining

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

As Born Yesterday nears its 60th birthday, Garson Kanin's romantic comedy is showing its age.

Set amid the dirty politics of a post-World War II Washington, the core of the show has gone from having shock value to taking on a certain innocence. In this era of corporate scandals, it's somehow refreshing to see an individual trying to bribe a senator and nearly getting away with it.

In the Toledo Repertoire Theatre's production, which runs through March 13, Tim Keogh plays that individual, Harry Brock, who parlayed a junk yard into a million-dollar scrap-reclamation empire. Seeing the potential for profit in the millions of pounds of scrap metal littering postwar Europe, Brock wants to go international, and he doesn't want the government to get in his way. So he comes to Washington to buy himself a senator to block any regulatory legislation.

He brings with him his mistress, Billie Dawn, a former chorus girl whose brassiness and rough edges quickly become apparent amid the sophistication of the political scene.

Brock, not wanting to give up Billie, hires Paul Verrall, a reporter for the New Republic, to "smarten her up." Brock's lawyer, Ed Devery, a former assistant attorney general, is against the plan, sensing that Billie doesn't realize how much she knows and that it's a good idea to keep her that way.

Ann Reid nails the key role of Billie, whose brassiness is a cover for boredom and cynicism. Billie has been told so often that Harry is the best thing that ever happened to her, she accepts it until Paul opens her eyes. Reid, who played the title character in last summer's Gypsy at the University of Toledo, is moving to Texas to be with her husband, and her absence will be noticeable in Toledo theater circles.

Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of chemistry between Reid and Brad Riker, who plays Paul, making the romantic angle less than credible, even though the teacher-student relationship works quite well.

Much more fascinating is Jeffrey Albright as Devery, the corrupt attorney. Albright, a UT graduate who lived in New York for 16 years, appearing in several off-Broadway productions, lets us see Devery's anguish as he tries to drown his unethical behavior in booze and his secret delight - and terror - in Billie's growing awareness of the world. Devery is a complex character, and Albright captures that.

Not complex at all is Brock, a tycoon who is used to getting his way, no matter what it takes: determination, bribery, or violence. Keogh understands that Brock is not a stupid man, but he is egotistical to the point of being blinded by his own power. He simply cannot comprehend losing.

Others in the cast include Gary VanBuskirk and Kate Argow as Senator and Mrs. Hedges; Wayde Winter as Eddie Brock, Harry's assistant, and Joe Moran, Carol Ann Erford, Jamal Tripp, and Sarah Collier as various minor characters.

There's one more role that Kanin didn't write: that of stage manager, played by Jori Jex. Director Charles Vicinus has chosen to present Born Yesterday as a production in progress. The audience is supposed to see it as a rehearsal, with the cast chatting behind the curtain before the play starts, equipment suffering various problems, and the stage manager tweaking the performance.

It's an odd conceit, a little interesting at first, when it doesn't get in the way. But at the end, when the climax is nearing, the stage manager's intrusion into a key scene costs the production its momentum.

Up to this point, though, it's fairly easy to ignore the play's age and its few shortcomings and enjoy Reid and Albright's topnotch performances.

"Born Yesterday" runs through March 13 in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th Street. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Sunday and March 7. Tickets are $16 for adults and $14 for seniors. Information: 419-243-9277.



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