original article appeared in the July 23, 2019 edition of the Tri-City Voice
Born Yesterday, the 1946 Broadway play about a rich and corrupt junk dealer who visits Washington D.C. with his showgirl mistress, has just opened at the Chanticleers Theatre in Castro Valley, and it’s as fresh and relevant today as it was back then. Perhaps even more so.
Directed by Micheal Sally, who is no stranger to Chanticleers, and originally written by Garson Kanin, it’s a tale as old as time. Uncouth businessman Harry Brock is in our nation’s capitol on a mission: to bribe a senator to help pass legislation that will help Brock’s business make more money. Brock is accompanied by his sleazy lawyer, Ed Devery, his go-fer brother Eddie Brock, and his ditzy girlfriend, Billie Dawn.
The entire show takes place in the suite of a swanky hotel. As Brock prepares for his business dealings, he realizes that Billie should have “more learning”, so he hires a local reporter, Paul Verrall, to help educate her. Brock’s plan backfires, however, as Billie begins to realize what a bad bunch they are, and with Verrall’s help, foils their plans. In the end, she leaves Brock to marry the idealistic Verrall, and the two ride off into the sunset.
Born Yesterday is a mix of I Love Lucy and The Godfather, with plenty of hilarious moments that lighten an otherwise dark melodrama. Throughout the show Brock gets his way by bullying, intimidating, and bribing all those around him. Jason Berner is brilliant in this role, his New Jersey accent spot on as he spews forth double negatives and phrases like “youse guys”.
It’s easy to hate this character, yet Berner brings a complexity to Brock that has the audience sympathetic with his plight. Is it his fault he has turned out this way, or should we blame the system (not unlike a certain president)? We need to realize that Kanin’s script came at a time when McCarthyism had a grip on America. People were questioning our capitalist roots as social reforms gathered steam.
Laura Zimmerman shines as Billie Dawn. Charming and honest, her desire to better herself amidst a broken relationship is admirable. Zimmerman nails the squeaky accent and rough undertones of an uneducated “blonde bombshell”, and her comedic timing is a joy. In one scene she plays a game of gin rummy with Brock. Initially, no words are spoken as they deal the cards, yet it’s so funny as she repositions the cards in her hand and effortlessly wins every round.
It’s a stellar cast all around. Kyle Smith plays the washed-up lawyer Ed Devery well. Part legal counsel part town drunk, his habit of summing up situations with cliched sayings has Brock constantly trying to figure out what he means, which is a never-ending source of amusement for the audience. And Mike Ettel plays the straight man Paul Verrall with confidence. Also, hats off to the young Castro Valley Dramatic Arts Academy alums Live Langer and Santiago Sena-Guerra.
Set Designer Jon Gourdine has really hit a home run with this one. The lavish furniture and wall decor instantly transport us back to the 40’s. There are other details that bring us back as well, thanks to certain props, like cigarettes, cigars, and plenty of whiskey in glass tumblers.
It’s easy to see why this play was revived twice on Broadway (1989 and 2011) and adapted for film twice as well (1950 and 1993). I can’t think of anything more American than this, a story of a country searching for its’ lost identity, where anyone can make it big. Where dreams come true, for a certain price.
One last note: Chanticleer Theatre productions are a group effort. It’s impressive the number of volunteers that share their time to make this community theatre such a success.
Born Yesterday continues at The Chanticleers Theatre
July 19 – August 11
Castro Valley Community Theatre
3683 Quail Avenue, Castro Valley
510-SEE-LIVE or 510-733-5483
8 A.M. – 8 P.M. daily