Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Born Yesterday
Clayton Community Theatre
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of Small Craft Warnings


Joe O'Connor and Heather Sartin
Photo by John Lamb
Like Clayton Community Theatre's recent production of A View From The Bridge, there's a distinctly Trumpian resonance to their new revival of Garson Kanin's comedy of manners and politics. Both plays feature loud, proud New Yorkers in conflict with the changing world around them: men whose stubbornness leads to a lot of pain and suffering, ultimately for themselves.

But the producers here say they chose this play on or before November 26, 2015, nearly a full year before the election. So any similarity between it and present day events, sixty-one years after Born Yesterday first debuted, is purely coincidental. And either way, it's a delightful show in every sense, which is all that really matters, right?

But it is interesting to note that the whole plot turns on rough-hewn scrap-dealer-turned millionaire Harry Brock (brash and terrifically naturalistic as played by Joe O'Connor) and his efforts to keep his girlfriend Billie Dawn (the wonderful Heather Sartin) both dimwitted and in the dark. But as anyone over the age of 40 probably remembers, that girlfriend is gradually drawn away from Brock and into enlightenment by the the idealistic journalist Paul Verrall (played by the very likable Mark A. Neels).

The upshot of it all is that the show gains added tension from current events: Harry Brock dominates and deceives Billie, clumsily attempting to extend his financial power into the world of politics. And even if that political resonance wasn't there, this production still has excellent realism in the acting style, and admiral pacing under the silky direction of Sam Hack. The perfect meshing of script and direction means things can slow down a tick here and there, and it only adds to the verisimilitude. Somehow, as everything comes together, we can't help looking nervously over Billie and Paul's shoulders as they get closer, wondering if Harry will suddenly come barging in again. And costumes and sets, sometimes a problem at Clayton, are all quite admirable in this production, further heightening the atmosphere.

There's also a great, cozy sense of "settling in" to something vastly reassuring and fun in act two—as if snuggling up by a warm fire on a cold night, while this great lovers' triangle roars to life with great characters and pacing. (After intermission, acts two and three have been merged together, which works just fine.) Tom Moore is excellent as a Washington insider, and Will Shaw is every inch an elegant U.S. senator, quietly willing to take a bribe from a rich out-of-towner.

Overall, it's lighter and brighter than the 1950 film with Judy Holliday, William Holden and Broderick Crawford, which eventually bogs down in excessive nobility. But the original play, with its straightforward plot and outrageous outsiders thrashing around in Washington, D.C. is just plain fun, especially in this staging.

Through May 14, 2017, at the Washington University South Campus, 6501 Clayton Rd., 63105. For more information visit www.placeseveryone.org.

Cast
Billie Dawn: Heather Sartin
Harry Brock: Joe O'Connor
Paul Verrall: Mark A. Neels
Ed Devery: Tom Moore
Senator Norval Hedges: Will Shaw
Mrs. Hedges: Cindy Duggan
Eddie Brock: Paul Schultz
Assistant Manager: Jack Janssen
Helen (hotel housekeeper): Sarah Hirshfield
Bellhop/Bootblack: Drew Rydberg
Bellhop/Barber: Stefan Peterson
Manicurist: Lucy Sappington

Crew
Director: Sam Hack
Assistant Director/Stage Manager: Erin Struckhoff
Assistant Stage Manager: Maureen Highkin
Production Coordinator: Marilyn Albert-Hack
Set Designers: Andrew Cary, Zac Cary, Steve Myers
Lighting Designer: Nathan Schroeder
Props Designer: Kati Castello Johnson
Costumer: Jean Heckmann
Light/Sound Board Operator: Amy Ruprecht
Postcard/Poster/Program Art: Karl Bockemeier
House Managers: Margie and Steve Knapp, Gina and Scott Stark, Jeff Struckhoff
Box Office Manager/Program Creator: Ellen Schroeder


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