Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, October 2004
I don’t know about other theatre folks, at least once during the rehearsals for each show I have been involved with, I have had The Dream. In this dream family and friends are streaming into the theatre, wildly excited to see this play that I have written or directed or am performing in, but it is not opening night, it is that very night on which I am dreaming, when the costumes aren’t sewn and the sets aren’t painted and people barely know all their lines. They hand me bouquets of flowers and kiss me on both cheeks, saying how they know this is going to be the best thing I’ve ever done. And a grab at them in increasing desperation shouting, “Wait! Go home! It’s not READY!” They never listen to me and the nightmare continues as the curtain rises and the actors bravely attempt to do the impossible.
I have a sneaking suspicion that I was a part of that nightmare last night at the Ghent Playhouse. I was unwittingly cast as the Curmudgeonly Theatre Critic Sitting On The Aisle In Row D. If only someone had told me ahead of time, I would have worn my blood red velvet cape, carried my halberd, and leapt to my feet half way through Act I shouting “Off with their heads!”
All silliness aside, the opening night performance of Born Yesterday at the Ghent Playhouse was the first time I ever sat in that theatre painfully aware that I was watching amateurs. Lines were flubbed and stepped on, the blocking was non-existent, the lights dimmed for no apparent reason, and the poor actors developed increasing expressions of panic. Something was desperately wrong. And apparently word had gotten out ahead of time because the house was only about half full, and many of the attendees were recognizable as long-time Ghent supporters and the stalwart families of the performers.
The sad thing for me was watching a cast filled with actors I have praised lavishly in the past in such obvious agony. I KNOW these people can put on a polished and entertaining show. What prevented them from doing so again? It is entirely possible that there was some back-stage catastrophe of which I knew nothing. It is also possible that this is what is known as a “snake-bitten” production, that awful collision of bad luck and karma that causes everything to go wrong from the first day of casting until everyone limps home on closing night.
Rather than rake everyone over the coals, I will take Thumper’s father’s advice and keep quiet. No one gets it right 100% of the time and I am sure when I return in November to see Proof this bad dream will be only a hazy memory.
But I would like to say a few nice things about this production, things that give me hope that perhaps by the second weekend of the run everything will gel into a fun evening of theatre. John Wallace and Jennifer Lyon are well-cast in the leading roles of Harry Brock and Billie Dawn. I have laughed myself silly over Wallace in comedic roles, and I was impressed with his ability in this largely tough and unsympathetic part. Lyon is pert and pretty and really acted as the glue which held together the unfortunate performance I saw. One of the best moments of the show was the largely silent card-playing scene between Harry and Billie at the end of Act I.
Kenneth Young has designed an attractive and practical set, reminiscent of the one Ghent constructed for the second and third acts of Private Lives last winter. The design opens up the small stage as big as it will go, and affords clear sight lines.
Born Yesterday is a fun play, and a thought-provoking one. It is years since I have seen a production, but I looked forward to it fondly, as if getting a chance to greet an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long while. I had forgotten how very patriotic the script is, and how much playwright Garson Kanin uses Billie’s intellectual awakening as an allegory for the need for all citizens to be educated and informed in order for our democracy to function properly. I had wondered at the flurry of interest in this show (NYSTI up the road is Troy is also mounting a production this month) but now it is crystal clear why directors would be drawn to stage this play in an election year.
I am so sorry this is not a good production. I extend my sympathies to all involved and offer my fervent prayers to Thalia, muse of comedy, for a miraculous healing as the run of the show progresses.
Born Yesterday runs October 1-17, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at the Ghent Playhouse, on Town Hall Road just off Rt. 66 next to the fire station. The show runs two hours and forty minutes with one intermission and is suitable for ages 8 and up. Tickets are $15, $12 for Playhouse members. Call the box office at 518-392-6264 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2004