‘Born Yesterday’ by Garson Kanin at Sonoma Arts Live

(L-R) Ken Bacon (Harry Brock), David Abrams (Paul Verrall), Melissa Claire (Billie Dawn), Matt Farrell (Eddie Brock). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Yesterday is today with this bright production of “Born Yesterday” at Sonoma Arts Live in Sonoma.  With a beautiful set and an eternal story told by great acting, we have a delightful evening looking at the personal side of power in DC.

The comedy was a hit on Broadway in 1946, and continues to charm audiences today in this revival.  It is thought to have been an inspiration for the first TONY award ceremony in 1947.

Harry Brock (played by Ken Bacon) comes to Washington with his entourage to make money on his junk business by removing regulations on imports.  What better way to do that than to lobby and pay off a Senator to champion the cause?

His girlfriend, Billie Dawn (played by Melissa Claire), comes along as his “silent partner” in the scheme.  Eddie Brock (Matt Farrell) is Harry’s cousin and schlep, and Ed Devery (Richard Kerrigan) is Harry’s attorney.   The whole gang stumbles over each other to corrupt (bribe) the good Senator Norval Hedges (played by Dan Monez).

(L-R) Ken Bacon (Harry Brock), Melissa Claire (Billie Dawn). Photo by Eric Chazankin

Bacon plays the bully masterfully, with yells and threats to all members of his team.  His big mistake is to bring in journalist Paul Verrall (David Abrams) to educate Billie in the ways of Washington.  Once started, the education brings our ditzy Billie to her senses;  she becomes the hero in this madcap adventure.

Claire becomes Billie, with the (stereotypical) shrill mannerisms of a 1940’s showgirl and dancer.  The character changes subtly through the story, taking her education seriously.  Throughout the play, Claire molds her character into a stronger, more focused woman who has found herself again with a passion for life.

Abrams is understated in his search for the underlying truth in this story.  He plays a journalist who teaches Billie about life and democracy, translating historical writings into her showgirl vocabulary.  He is the contradiction to the bully and the corruption.

Richard Kerrigan (Ed Devery), Melissa Claire (Billie Dawn). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Kerrigan is the voice of reason.  His character is an attorney who may work for Harry Brock, but does not hesitate to tell everyone his cynical position as advisor to someone who will not take his advice. The alcohol helps.

How does one play a Senator ripe for bribing?  Monez’s character is distinguished and greedy at the same time.  His wife (played by Kim Williams) seems like a reflection of the Senator: she does not object to his involvement, but reacts instinctively to the situations with a superiority that fits the role.

The hotel staff include RoyAnne Florence as the maid Helen, Cooper Gingham and August Rinehart as the bellhops.  All do a fun job of setting the comedic stage.  Florence, in particular, does wonders with her cigarette.

“Born Yesterday” was a good story in 1946 and remains a good moral tale of outrage today in our current political scene of big money and corruption.  The comedy sharpens the edges.  The characters are blatant in their roles. Human nature, not greed, wins the day. It gives us hope.

Dan Monez (Senator Norval Hedges), Ken Bacon (Harry Brock). Photo by Eric Chazankin.

Director Carl Jordan turns an old story into a fresh production, casting good actors and using their talents to really bring the story to life.  The story is set in 1947.  It could be 2018, with all the same lines and situations.  Only styles have changed.  Jordan is a master of farce and comedy, and it shows with this production.  He pulls the diverse characters into a great ensemble story team.

Sonoma Arts Live is in the Sonoma Community Center, one block from the Sonoma Square in downtown Sonoma.

“Born Yesterday” continues at Sonoma Arts Live in Sonoma through May 12, 2019.  For further information: www.sonomaartslive.org

Rating: ***1/2

“Born Yesterday,” by Garson Kanin is produced by Jaime Love at Sonoma Arts Live.  Director: Carl Jordan. Scenic Designers: Jason Jamerson and Gary Gonser. Costume Designer: Janis Snyder. Sound Designer: Steve Dietz. Lighting Designer: Bill Ferguson. Fight Choreographer: David Abrams.

Cast: David Abrams: Paul Verrall. Ken Bacon: Harry Brock. Cooper Bingham: Bellhop. Melissa Claire: Billie Dawn. Matt Ferrell: Eddie Brock. RoyAne Florence: Helen. Richard Kerrigan: Ed Devery. Dan Monez: Senator Norval Hedges. August Rinehart: Bellhope. Kim Williams: Mrs. Hedges.