Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Born Yesterday’s reboot shows timeless themes

May 17, 2017 by Jayden Grieve, contributing writer

Reboots are currently seeing a grand renaissance, and for good reason. The familiarity of a classic story combined with the thrill of something novel makes for an exciting experience.

But this is nothing new: the theatre world has been capitalizing on this mentality for most of its history. Born Yesterday debuted on Broadway in 1946; in 1950, it was adapted for film, and actress Judy Holliday won an Academy Award for her role as Emma “Billie” Dawn, the story’s heroine. The play is now part of the program for Blue Bridge Theatre’s 2017 People’s Choice Season, which was decided on by votes from the public.

Kassiani Austen, who will be playing Dawn in Born Yesterday, is excited for the opportunity to be part of the show.

“It’s a great role. The preliminary work I’ve been doing has been really fun,” says Austen. “I did watch Judy Holliday’s Oscar-winning performance, and I’m sure there’ll be some inspiration from that, but I really do believe that the strength is in the writing. When you work on a script like this that’s well written with strong characters, it’s going to be a really good production.”

Kassiani Austen plays Emma “Billie” Dawn in Blue Bridge Theatre’s adaptation of Born Yesterday (photo provided).

The show’s story revolves around Dawn and a man named Harry Brock, who plans to buy up politics in Washington to achieve his desire for power and money.

“The character that I play, she’s a showgirl who’s been with this Harry Brock character for about 10 years,” says Austen. “They’ve been in this long-term relationship and they come to Washington together. She’s not dumb; she’s ignorant, blissfully and happily so. She chooses to be ignorant. She doesn’t want anything other than what she has.”

When Brock decides that Dawn needs a bit of an education so she can hold a conversation with the politicians he’s trying to woo, an opportunity for character development presents itself. Dawn surprises even herself as she sheds the chains of ignorance and shucks her passive role in favour of taking action.

“What ends up happening is that she ends up being extremely bright, and she learns so much and through the process of the play tries to set wrong to right with Harry, because she becomes so smart she sees through his plan,” says Austen. “She goes through a huge character development; I think the most satisfying thing in the show is her growth.”

Although it was written in the ’40s, the plot and ideas of the play hold up to the test of time. Austen says she thinks the themes of political corruption, purposeful ignorance, and overcoming the feeling of helplessness are particularity relevant today in regards to the political landscape we’re facing. She hopes that the voters’ choice of this play for this season is a sign that the public is aware of what’s going on and hasn’t given up the fight.

“I just think it’s satisfying for the audience to see someone actively try to change their life and to become stronger,” says Austen. “People just sort of watch the whole system collapse, and that’s what’s going on today; half the stuff that’s happening would never fly normally, and people can’t even catch up with it. There’s a burden that comes with education, with shedding ignorance. You have to act on it; you can’t just be a passive bystander. Billie, she acts.”

Born Yesterday
Various times, Tuesday, May 30 to Sunday, June 11
Various prices, Blue Bridge Theatre at the Roxy
bluebridgetheatre.ca

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