Review: ‘Born Yesterday’ at SF Playhouse (***)

Millie Brooks plays Billie Dawn, the “dim-witted” chorus girl who gets an education and stirs up trouble for her thuggish boyfriend in Garson Kanin’s classic comedy, “Born Yesterday.”

by Charles Kruger

This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Nobody could imagine anything more impossible or ridiculous than that gangster-style businessman Harry Brock (Michael Torres in an SF Playhouse debut) and his bimbo of a girlfriend, Billie Dawn (Millie Brooks), could possibly acquire influence among the respectable senators and lawyers in our nation’s capitol. Brock is crude, brutal, crooked and crass, and Billie appears to be no smarter than an acorn. And surely it stretches credulity to the breaking point that crass Harry could have his interests represented by Ed Devery (the ever-reliable Anthony Fusco), former Deputy Attorney General of the United States. Who would believe it?

Um . . . wait a minute. If the situation sounds all-too-familiar (of course it does), then you can see how it is that SF Playhouse saw fit to mount this revival. “Born Yesterday,” a highly-charged political satire, is often cited as one of the 20th century’s best comedies. Although it has been revived twice on Broadway, and was made into a classic film in 1950, it is not as familiar to contemporary audiences as it ought to be.

Those encountering this gem for the first time at SF Playhouse are treated to a fine production, featuring excellent ensemble work by a capable cast. The funniest moments in the show come not from the lines spoken, but the beautifully understated reactions of the other characters. Fusco, in particular, is invariably soft spoken as Ed Devery, but his bemused and startled reactions to all developments are delicious.

Let’s get to the premise. When coarse businessman Harry Brock arrives in Washington with his mistress, Billie, he is advised that Billie’s manners need some polish, so he hires muck-raking liberal writer Paul Varrell (Jason Kapoor)  to give her a quick education. But nobody banks on Billie’s sharp mind, and when she starts to get wise to her boyfriend’s crooked business, all hell breaks loose. As Billie and Paul, Millie Brooks and Jason Kapoor have great chemistry. Each of them plays a gradual awakening beatifully: sex-pot Billie awakes to her mind as the nerdish Paul awakes to his body and their delight in one another’s transformation is great fun. Kapoor has a super moment when he suddenly realizes the lay of the land, bursting forth with a startled smile that lights up the stage.

As businessman Brock, Michael Torres seemed a bit unsure of himself on opening night. His performance was strangely limited to a single, very loud note. Even though we understand that Brock is a brute, it is difficult to accept that he could have had the brains and stamina to achieve his business success without ever listening to anyone else. More than likely, Torres’s performance will continue to develop as the run progresses, and he settles in more comfortably.

The rest of the cast works together quite well, and each character delivers a good share of laughs.

“Born Yesterday,” is funny and relevant, and features several fine performances that bring forth full-throated laughs from the audience.

“Born Yesterday” plays at the SF Playhouse through March 10, 2018. For further information, click here.

Rating:  *** (for an explanation of Theatrestorm’s rating scale, click here.)

_____________________________

“Born Yesterday” by Garson Kanin, produced by SF Plauyhouse.Director: Susi Damilano. Scenic and Properties Designer: Jacquelyn Scott. Costume Designer: Abra Berman. Sound and Projections Designer: Theodore J. H. Hulsker. Lighting Designer: Michael Oesch. 

Cast: 

Helen/Manicurist: Melissa Quine. Paul Verrall: Jason Kapoor. Eddie Brock: Gabriel Montoya. Bellhop/Barber/Waitera: Casey Robert Spiegel. Harry Brock: Michael Torres. Assistant Manager/Bootblack: Marty Lee Jones. Billie Dawn: Millie Brooks. Ed Devery: Anthony Fusco. Sen. Norval Hedges: Louis Parnell. Mrs. Hedges: Terry Bamberger.

 

 

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