It's easy to root for Billie Dawn (Melissa Miller), girlfriend of scrap metal tycoon Harry Brock (Ted Koch). Billie is young, pretty, uneducated, and not so innocentbut she's not dumb. Brock has his reasons for keeping Billie around, though they don't involve respect or affection. As he thinks she is too rough around the edges for his current social circle, he hires idealistic journalist Paul Verrall (Daniel Krell) to give Billie a higher class education. With her natural curiosity and a new pair of glasses, Billie blossoms under Paul's tutelage, and her eyes are opened to much more than the classics of literature.
The film is such a well-known classic, and Judy Holliday's Billie such an iconic character, a challenge comes in casting the right actress: we expect more than a suggestion of Holliday, but will be disappointed if the actress doesn't also make the role her own. In Melissa Miller, the Public has made a good effort, though the portrayal is not smooth; the Holliday-esque punctuations (mostly vocal) come and go, becoming somewhat distracting. Miller is a more than capable actress, and the Kanin zingers are not wasted on her, but I found the end result a bit muddled. And, unfortunately, she has little chemistry with Daniel Krell as Pauland there definitely should be some, as they fall for each other quickly and suddenly. His Paul is over-eager and a bit too weak, even while his interest in educating Billie is earnest. I would not be surprised if these actors settle more successfully into these roles as the run goes on.
Though Brock is concerned about Billie's social skills, he is himself blustering, crude and unrefined. But his success in taking advantage of the post-war scrap metal business (and cleverness and influence in nearly wheedling his way into a big government break to further that business) gives him power over those around him. Ted Koch pretty much nails the character in a complete performance here, without going into caricature. He is paired well with Michael McKenzie as sleazy lawyer Ed Devery.
James Noone has prepared another perfectly designed set, this time of a plush hotel room. Ted Pappas directs with a light hand, keeping things moving right along with Kanin's bright and rich script.
Born Yesterday runs through October 28 at the O'Reilly Theater for Pittsburgh Public Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org.
Ken Bolden: Assistant Manager
Ted Pappas: Director