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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Born Yesterday

Also see Tracy's review of Leading Ladies

Born Yesterday
Suli Holum and Jonathan Fried
Almost 60 years have passed since Born Yesterdayhad its Broadway premiere, but the current production at Arena Stage shows that Garson Kanin’s delightful 1946 fable about the education of an innocent in the ways of high-stakes politics hasn’t lost a bit of its appeal.

The primary asset of the play must be its central character: Billie Dawn (Suli Holum), a former chorus girl, now mistress to bullying scrap-metal tycoon Harry Brock (Jonathan Fried). Just after the end of World War II, Brock has come to the best suite in the best hotel in Washington to use his money, muscle, and whatever else to influence some legislation that helps his interests. (In those days, this process was still called bribery. It has other names today.)

Harry knows he’s a roughneck, but he thinks that throwing around enough money – and listening to his lawyer, Ed Devery (Rick Foucheux) – will allow him to be a player in the game of politics. As Devery, once an idealist and now Harry’s stooge, tells him: “You’ve got a chance to be one of the men who runs this country. Better than that. You can run the men who run it.”

On the other hand, Billie needs some smartening up if she’s going to rub elbows with senators and other powerful people. She’s totally self-interested with no concept of the rest of the world. Harry hires Paul Verrall (Michael Bakkensen), a muckraking journalist from the New Republic, to show Billie the ropes – and things progress from there.

Holum embodies Billie perfectly: large round eyes, sweet face, and unexpected depths. She looks gorgeous in the elegant costumes by Michael Krass as she dances, flirts, and eventually learns that knowledge is true power. Her facial expressions alone as she plays gin rummy with Harry are sufficient reason to see her performance.

Bakkensen is a good match for Holum as Paul: earnest, a little nerdy, and an unexpected love object in his glasses and rumpled, mismatched clothes. Foucheux manages to convey levels of stifled fury and self-loathing; Hugh Nees plays Eddie’s cousin and servant with a knockabout sort of appeal, and Terrence Currier ably conveys the (perhaps unearned) gravitas of a morally compromised senator. In her one scene, Nancy Robinette presents a beautifully delineated cameo as the senator’s wife.

The one weak link in the cast is Fried. If Harry is going to succeed at all, he needs to have a veneer of blustering charm, laughing at his supposed strong-arm tactics, before he reveals his true ruthlessness. Fried portrays the character as a thug from his first appearance, which means he can only get louder and louder.

Donnelly keeps the pace rapid. This talky play, originally performed in three acts, runs just two and a quarter hours.

One peripheral note: A photo in the program shows Garson Kanin and his wife, Ruth Gordon, with Max Gordon, identified as the original Harry Brock. That is incorrect; Paul Douglas played the role, while Max Gordon produced the play on Broadway.

Arena Stage
Born Yesterday
September 30th – November 6th
By Garson Kanin
Helen: Susan Lynskey
Paul Verrall: Michael Bakkensen
Bellhop/Bootblack: Matt Dunphy
Bellhop/Barber: Jesse Terrill
Eddie Brock: Hugh Nees
Assistant Manager: James Konicek
Billie Dawn: Suli Holum
Ed Devery: Rich Foucheux
Manicurist: Kerry Rambow
Sen. Norval Hedges: Terrence Currier
Mrs. Hedges: Nancy Robinette
Directed by Kyle Donnelly
Fichandler Theatre, Arena Stage, Sixth and Maine avenues S.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Scott Suchman


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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