“Because when ya steal from the government, you're stealing from yourself, ya dumb ox” Billie Dawn is the perfect dame for Wash D.C. - “Born Yesterday” Rings the Election Year as the Ideal Play for the Season.
Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday" first premiered on Broadway on February 4,1946. The play was adapted into a successful 1950’s film of the same name. The movie, starred the spirited Judy Holliday, who won an Oscar for her role. Center Rep Company opens its winter play with this classic Washington D.C. comedy now at the Margaret Lesher Theatre through February 27th. Directed by Timothy Near, she has assembled the perfect cast and creative team to bring D.C. to Walnut Creek. Kanin’s classic is a gem that is also the perfect commentary for this election year.
Director Near doesn’t try to gloss over the 1946 comedy with any contemporary headlines, she lets Kanin’s script keep its iconic charm. The failed 1993 screen remake with Melanie Griffith shows that updating this plot does not work. Near lets the play stand on its own. “A little education is a dangerous thing”. That's what junkyard mogul Harry Brock learns in "Born Yesterday" played like a lion by Will Springhornwhen.
Harry hires handsome writer Paul Verrall to smarten up his simple minded and unrefined ex-showgirl girlfriend, Billie Dawn, so she won't embarrass him while he's robbing politicians in Washington, D.C. Harry is uncouth himself, but he doesn't matter since he has enough money to buy off Washington. The amazing local favorite, Sharon Rietkerk plays the classic blonde, Billie Dawn. Rietkerk proves she has that gutsy, hilarious and full giddy Billy style. Looking like a charmed Lady Gaga from the ‘40’s, and sounding like Cyndi Lauper, she brings mindless authority and a sexy girlish presence that makes her as adept in her comic timing
Billie Dawn, is a line chorus showgirl, her claim to fame is the five lines she had in Anything Goes, she proudly shares that with Jersey junkyard millionaire, Harry Brock. Jackson Davis is excellent as Ed Devery, Brock's wayward lawyer, and Senator Hedges is skillfully played by Jesse Caldwell, whose influence can be bought. Harry has come to Washington to expand his empire. Kanin’s dialogue and political banter verses Brock's gangster slang is terrific. Billie’s lack of sophistication is a social liability to Harry. He could have picked a safer teacher to improve Billies knowledge, than the reporter, handsomely played by Jason Kuykendall, who keeps sniffing around trying to find out what Harry's up to in Washington.
Rietkerk and Kuykendall are exceptional together as student and tutor. Their on stage flirting is warm and their comic timing set the sold out opening crowd smiling during their scenes. The very funny Monica Cappuccini plays the Senator's wife in a wonderful scene where drinking is the best way to avoid Billie’s misguided Wash D.C. ways.
The great character actor, the lovable Colin Thomson plays Harry's brother and side kick goon, Eddie Brock. Director Near respects the timing of the three-act play, with its conveniently timed entrances and exits through many doors on a single set. The period swanky D.C. hotel two story suite designed by Erik Flatmo all draped in red, gold and navy blue, with regal period upholstery -- is a stunner. The back window opens to a perfect view of the Capitol building, it steals the elegance of the look, but is impressive. Ditto for Victoria Livingston-Hall’s sharp costumes, Billies first act gowns glow with glamorous body language, and in the second act as she understands Harry's world her look is more sophisticated. All the men are in black, grey and white, except for Harry’s King Lear robes and bright pajamas. There is that “Mad Man” look to the tall handsome, Paul Verrall, and the maid staff is bright red. Near keeps the wait staff bouncing and moving through all three acts. Dialect coach Lynne Soffer has Rietkerk's Jersey sound foolproof, Judy Disbrow's wigs on the blond beauty are flawless, and Kurt Landisman's light design is most captured in the looming Capitol Building window drop.
Other notable performances by Michael Abts, Val Garrahan, Dominic Lessa and the delightful Adrienne Krug, as the wait staff and maids, all moved like keystone cops on the fun two story set of steps and doors. Billie has always been happy being the dumb blonde. “I got two mink coats,” she says, justifying her lack of general curiosity. But when she gets an unaccustomed hunger for knowledge and a yen for Paul, Billie’s eyes are opened to Harry’s corruption and Kanin's story makes that political downfall come to his leading lady’s rescue.
One of the best moments in the two and half hour play happens in almost complete silence with Harry and Billie playing a card game of GIN. Near directs the two in near perfect card shuffling speak and Billie begins to see the real game. Garson Kanin wrote very pre-women's lib, money and politics and he brings the issue to the table in 1940. Great insight and a very adorable play that holds strong today. This is a great cast and production, and a great way to take a President's holiday weekend winter night in Walnut Creeks short visit to Wash D.C.
Center Repertory Company
By Garson Kanin, Directed by Timothy Near
Through: Feb. 27
Lesher Center for the Arts,
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, one intermission
Tickets: $33-$53; 925-943-7469,
more info at www.centerrep.org
Photo’s by www.kevinberne.com