A fiery, redheaded television star. Who is the first person that comes to mind? Sure there was Lucille Ball, but what about the other lesser known redhead, Marion Kroft? Child movie star trying to reclaim her fame in her variety television show, Marion pulls out all the stops in order to break into the movie business again. BORN READY takes us on her journey as we find out she’ll do whatever it takes to get her way.
The Factory Theater’s Newest Play Takes Us Back
BORN READY starts taking us back to the 50s. The announcer tells us we’re a part of a live taping in the television’s studio. He also reminds us to turn off our “transistor radios.” The curtain is pulled back and reveals Marion sitting alongside her scene partner, Gil, as they film for their television show, Two of a Kind. However, one slip up from Gil has Marion storming off stage declaring she’ll make her own TV show.
With Marion’s signature catchphrase, “I was born ready,” we are transported to the Marion Kroft Show - a variety television show. A new dancer, Harriet, has just arrived on set and is quickly directed to get into costume. Even though the show goes off without too much of a hitch, Marion is still facing criticism from the television executives. She needs to do something fresh and exciting to boost her ratings. The new girl has shown considerable dancing skills and is soon starring alongside Marion.
The two are an inseparable pair, even more so when Harriet reveals something about herself that changes their relationship. As Marion attempts to climb the ladder and make her way back into film, she realizes there are things that must be sacrificed in order to get what she wants. How far will she go and what will she give up in order to gain the fame she lost years ago?
Tongue in Cheek 50s References
BORN READY has a number of jokes that are a nod to the 50’s. Of course there’s the allusion to the other redhead TV star at the time, especially how she is a part of producer meetings for her show. An offhand remark makes it subtly known Marion isn’t invited to producer meetings because she is a woman.
This only one of the countless references to the rampant sexism of the 50’s. There’s also a cheeky line about women not having to work today since it's their day off, a comment about needing to watch one’s figure, and finally the shame if a woman has a child out of wedlock. It’s these moments where we’re thankful for the progressive women in our history that changed the way society treats women.
Another clever incorporation of 50’s references was the use of commercials during set changes. Our announcer, played by Eric Roach, pops up on stage to tell us about some new products. There’s the Violet Hand to give you an energy boost, sugar pills for when you’re feeling like you want to eat something, and an electric, vibrating gum massager for massaging your...“gums.” It was a fun and creative way to keep the audiences engaged over the usually pace- stunting set changes.The costumes designed by Kate Setzer Kamphausen are also very spot on to help create the well-known 50’s look.
Eleanor Katz Was Born Ready
The leading lady, Eleanor Katz plays Marion Kroft with a natural ease and tenacity. What else is there to say other than she was “born ready” to play this role. She has a wide breadth of emotions ranging from a worn out woman who knows the television game to a woman in love with her stage manager.
Katz plays Marion with such mystery that we never really know what will be her end game. What is she actually thinking and to achieve what end? It feels like she relates to how women were treated in the 50s and shows the audience what they needed to do in order to be taken seriously in the television business. An outstanding performance backed by the other cast members who make this television show pop.
BORN READY has everything a good sitcom needs - singing, dancing, manipulation, romance, and of course, a laugh track. It throws some light hearted punches at the way things were back then and brings us into the world of Marion Kroft. You’ll feel the emotional ups and downs alongside her and will be engaged with the story of what happens backstage at the studio.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
Now through April 29th
Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00p.m.
Sundays at 3:00p.m.
The Factory Theater
1623 W. Howard St.
Chicago, IL 60626