Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Seattle

A Bright Dawn rises over ACT's Born Yesterday

Jennifer Lyon
Though a mega-Broadway hit in 1946, and a smash, Academy award winning 1950 film (for its star Judy Holliday, repeating her stage triumph as brassy blonde Billie Dawn), Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday isn't as frequently revived as most popular comedies of that era. It just isn't easy to find someone to step into the beloved Miss Holliday's comedic pumps, but happily, sage director Warner Shook has, in the person of a bright, new young talent named Jennifer Lyon, who honors Miss Holliday's memory without aping her, and had the opening night crowd at ACT Theatre roaring with approving laughter.

Kanin's tale is part Pygmalion and part Frank Capra social comedy with a social conscience. Set in Washington DC, 1946 it gives us a self-made slob of a business mogul named Harry Brock, who decides his decorative but decidedly dim-bulb girlfriend Billie Dawn needs to be better educated. Brock makes the acquaintance of New Republic writer Paul Verrall, who gets Billie reading, and exploring her own dormant intelligence, and before long she's quoting Thomas Paine, standing up to the brutish Brock, and falling in love with the equally smitten Verrall. Billie ultimately holds all the cards and thwarts some of Brock's dirtier business dealings with some self-serving politicos, and walks off into a brighter tomorrow with Verrall, leaving Brock only his adorable little dog to cuddle on cold winter nights.

Shook's production, save for a few early moments when Ms. Lyon is offstage a bit too long, honors the original show without embalming it, and wisely plays the three act piece with only one intermission. A real actor's director, Shook has cast the show impeccably. Lyon's Billie is sexy, sassy, sympathetic and fearless, and actually harder edged than Miss Holliday was (at least in the film version). Richard Ziman endows his Harry Brock with an Archie Bunker-like bluster and Bowery Boys sensibility. He and Lyon play out there bombastic arguments with comic zeal. Paul Morgan Stetler as Paul Verrall is the play's moral center, but Stetler never overdoes the nobility, and deftly handles the light, comedic romantic moments which allow Lyon to bring out Billie's softer side.

As much as we are accustomed to seeing the likes of R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette in roles that carry the show, it is a pleasure to see them offer such staunch supporting turns here. Wright scores as Ed Devery, who has retreated into the bottle, spouting cliched adages out of shame for his having sold out to he seamy side, and Pichette earns bravos for his main role as the smoothly slimy Senator Hedges, while also garnering solid laughs in a cameo turn as a blitheringly effete assistant hotel manager. Diminutive character actor Joseph P. McCarthy is a riot as Harry's brother and right hand thug Eddie Brock, and Jayne Muirhead rounds out the ensemble with comic punch in her dual roles as Mrs. Hedge's and Billie's hotel maid/confidante Helen. And I must that say Seideez Gracey-Lee is as well behaved and adorable a pooch as you are likely to see on any stage.

Robert A Dahlstrom delivers a handsome scenic design of Brock's hotel suite, Mary Louise Geiger's lighting design is effortlessly attractive, and costume designer Frances Kenny has fun with the '40s fashions, especially Lyons' outfits.

In short, expect a lot of laughs, a few hear tugs, and some still topical political commentary in Born Yesterday. And remember the name Jennifer Lyon. You'll be hearing it again, I'm certain.Born Yesterday runs through July 17 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, downtown Seattle. For more information go to ACT online at

Photo: Chris Bennion

- David-Edward Hughes

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