“When ya steal from the government, you're stealing from yourself, ya dumb ox” BILLIE DAWN IS STILL THE PERFECT DAME FOR WASH D.C. ‘BORN YESTERDAY’
MAKES TRUMPS SECOND YEAR BEARABLE
The US Capital shines bright through a huge hotel window at the Kensington Hotel as icon character Billie Dawn earns her Washington D.C. dignity. The San Francisco Playhouse opens its winter play with this classic Wash D.C. comedy. Garson Kanin's BORN YESTERDAY now at the SFPH Stage through March 10th. Garsons comedy first premiered on Broadway on February 4,1946. The play was adapted into a successful 1950’s film of the same name. The film starred the spirited, Judy Holliday, who won an Oscar for her role. This terrific production is directed by the clever Susi Damilano; she has assembled the perfect cast and creative team to bring D.C. to Union Square. “When I read this play, I was immediately struck by how resoundingly its message still rings after 70 years,” said Damilano. “The timeless story of integrity triumphing over political self-interest feels as relevant as ever—and, I hope, will provide us with an opportunity to reflect on our own human nature.”
Director Damilano 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. Damilano lets the play stand on its own. “A little education is a dangerous thing.” That's what junkyard mogul, Harry Brock, learns. The lion and King Lear of this DC story Harry Brock is played by the superb Michael Torres.
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 D.C. Harry is uncouth himself, but it doesn't matter since he has enough money to buy off Washington. The riveting, Millie Brooks plays the classic blonde, Billie Dawn. Brooks 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 smart 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 the Jersey junkyard millionaire. Local ACT favorite Anthony Fusco is excellent as Ed Devery, Brock's wayward lawyer, and Senator Hedges is skillfully played by Louis Parnell whose D.C. 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 and Torres’ big broad take is commanding. Billie’s lack of sophistication is a social liability to Harry. He could not have picked a safer teacher to improve Billie’s knowledge than the reporter, handsomely played by Jason Kapoor, who keeps sniffing around trying to find out what Harry's up to in Washington.
Brooks and Kapoor are exceptional together as student and tutor. Their on stage flirting is warm and their comic timing set the sold out Tuesday night crowd smiling during their many scenes. The very smug, Terry Bamberger, plays the Senator's wife in a wonderful scene where drinking is the best way to avoid Billie’s misguided D.C. ways. 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 in real time. Damilano directs the two in near perfect card shuffling speak and Billie begins to see the real game. “When ya steal from the government, you're stealing from yourself, ya dumb ox.”
The likeable Gabriel Montoya plays Harry's brother and side kick goon, Eddie Brock. The period swanky D.C. hotel two story suite designed by Jacquelyn Scott all draped with gold handrail stair cases and tan and earth tones with regal period upholstery is stunning. The side window opens to a perfect view of the Capitol building, it steals the elegance of the look designed by Theodore JH Hulsker, is impressive and changes its mood as the play erupts Hulsker sound design includes some wonderful classics that Billy plays on her turntable. Ditto for Abra Berman’s sharp 40's 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 blue 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 pile of books and wonderful props by Jacquelyn Scott gave the Eliza Doolittle makeover its real look. Brook's Jersey dialect is foolproof, Berman's wig on the blond beauty are flawless, and award winner Michael Osesch light design is bright and looming and second level lighting is sharp.
Stage manager Beth Hall respects the timing of the three-act play with its conveniently timed entrances and exits through many doors on a single two level set. Notable performances by Casey Robert Spiegel, Marty Lee Jones and the hilarious Melissa Quine 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 a hunger for knowledge and a heart for Paul, Billie’s eyes are opened to Harry’s corruption and Kanin's story turns to political madness.
Millie Brooks is a pleasure to watch from start to finish. Brooks steals the stage and brings the 3rd Act its real winning woman, she has created her own interpretation as Billie Dawn. Kanin’s classic is a gem that is also the perfect commentary for the Trump years. He wrote a very pre-women's lib, money and politics power play and he brings the issue to the table in 1940. SFPH brings a refreshing verve and spirit to the tale of corruption in politics. This is a terrific cast and production, and a great way to take a President's holiday weekend this February at SFPH’s short visit to Washington D.C. Next up at the Playhouse is the West Coast Premiere of THE EFFECT by Lucy Prebble that opens March 20th. In the meantime take a trip back to 1940’s Washington DC and be charmed by Billie Dawn.
San Francisco Playhouse presents
By Garson Kanin,
Directed by Susi Damilano
Must Close March 10th
SFPH at the Kensington Hotel,
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, one intermission
Photos by Jessica Palopoli
The cast of Born Yesterday; Millie Brooks*, Michael Torres*, Anthony Fusco*, Ed Berkeley*, Jason Kapoor*, Louis Parnell*, Derek Fischer, Terry Bamberger, Casey Robert Spiegel, Marty Lee Jones, and Melissa Quine.