Arkansas Repertory Theatre
When reviewing a play, most often you are offered tickets for opening night. And usually that’s when we go. Occasionally, though, it’s interesting to go a bit later in the weekend. To see how it holds up. I saw the Rep’s “Born Yesterday” at its sixth performance in four days. Everything held up fine. Everyone was as energetic as if it was opening night. I was impressed.
“Born Yesterday” is a 1940s romantic comedy with more than a touch of Pygmalion in it. Harry Brock (Scott Coopwood) buys and sells junk yards and he’s in Washington with his long time lover, Billie Dawn (Joan Hess), to buy himself a senator.
Concerned that the former show girl, Billie Dawn, may not fit in with the Washington regulars, Brock hires Paul Verrall (Stafford Clark-Price), a young reporter, to indoctrinate her with culture. And Verrall does all too good a job.
Billie Dawn, in the course of two months, learns so much that she’s turned from aging show girl to elegant student and idealist. She realizes that Brock has been using her as cover in some shady business dealings and, without giving away the end, we’ll just say that Billie Dawn and Paul seem to make their own way.
While the set and costumes may be all gorgeously set in the time, the script is as relevant as ever. Unfortunately, it like so many other texts, it offers more commentary than answers: “Are the people gonna run the country or is the country gonna run the people?”
The small cast is fantastic. They have deep roots in the Shakespearean world, according to the bios. Coopwood is outstanding as Harry Brock, all bluster and temper and ego. But more amazing is Joan Hess’ Billie Dawn. She has to be to be able to stand down Brock, to keep him from completely dominating the stage, and she does. I think she’s the only one in the cast who could do it. She is elegant, smart and hilarious.
As much as this is a political romantic comedy, don’t forget that Garson Kanin placed it in the world of 1946 — there is a lot of physical and slapstick humor. Some of the biggest laughs come during an almost silent card game in the first act.
For the laughs and gorgeous costumes alone this play would be worth seeing, but perhaps there are some answers in it for you. Go and see.