University Theatre at N.C. State’s presentation Garson Kanin’s 1946 Broadway comedy, Born Yesterday, directed by Rachel Klem and presented as part of TheatreFest 2015, is a light-hearted story about how, even though powerful folks with money, money, money can buy friends, politicians, and even women, a former showgirl with a big heart and common sense can save the day!
The story centers around Billie Dawn, played to perfection by Diana Cameron McQueen. She is a vacuous yet petulant singer (with the voice of Betty Boop) who has become the arm-candy for Harry Brock, a shifty, bombastic millionaire who made his fortune through shady business dealings.
Brock has come to Washington, D.C. with his entourage, including his savvy attorney, Edwina Devery, to push through some legislation favorable to his business — as he says “to make sure I get what I’ve paid for.”
Harry Brock is concerned that Billie Dawn’s inability to blend-in in social situations will be an embarrassment and, perhaps, a liability to him, so he hires a local writer and thinker, Paul Verral, to give her some lessons and some polish. Little does Brock know that Paul’s lessons will open Billie’s eyes, and that she will start thinking for herself. And little does he know that his idea will also create also a “romantic triangle” — and both of these side effects spell trouble for Brock!
The characters feel like cartoon characters, but in a good way. They are fleshed-out enough to invite us to care about them but not so much that we ever worry about them.
Timothy P. Caudle, for instance, establishes right away that he has all the power of a Vito Corleone or a Tony Soprano, but never gives the impression that a horse’s head might appear in someone’s bed. David Klionsky gives us an Eddie Brock whose manic scurrying demonstrates that he has been made aware that pleasing his cousin is mandatory.
Lynda Clark’s Edwina Devery (a lawyer who can “spot a loophole at 20 paces”) is so smooth that we never doubt that she is worth the six-figure salary per year that Brock pays her (in 1950s dollars!). And does she ever love a drink!
As the reporter-turned-teacher, Will Sanders’ Paul Verral could be said to be the moral touchstone of the play. We never doubt his vision or his intentions.
Barbette Hunter and John Harris are quite believable in the roles of Senator and Mrs. Hedges. Their interactions with Brock are quite entertaining; and Lindsey House, Alyssa Padmos, and Ryan Miller give us characters that add the right amount of spice to the mix. Their pre-show antics might just catch you “off-balance.”
The action takes place in a gorgeous marbled suite at a posh hotel in Washington, DC, a set designed by Jayme Mellema. We are told that the suite costs over $200 per day (in 1950s money) while the maid who cleans it makes $18 per week.
Costume designer Laura Parker did a great job of giving the cast a 1950s vibe, with long ties and tailored suits. And as Billie is transformed from frothy showgirl into a “semi-frothy” student, she moves from kimonos with fringe to tweed skirts and cat-eye glasses.
For all of the Pygmalion-styled polishing, Billie Dawn remains true to herself (keeping her light-as-air voice). Thankfully she also retains her big heart.
The music is fabulous 1950s bop. We were both so engaged by both the music and the play itself that the intermission came at lightning speed! And the second half played just as quick.
Born Yesterday is fast and fun — perfect for a summer evening. Performances will continue on June 3rd, 6th, 10th, 12th, and 14th.
SECOND OPINION: May 15th Raleigh, NC ArtsNow preview by Khushbu Gosai: http://artsnownc.com/2015/05/15/preview-nc-states-theatrefest-2015/.
University Theatre at N.C. State presents BORN YESTERDAY at 7:30 p.m. June 3, 6, 10, and 12 and 2 p.m. June 14 in the Titmus Theatre in Frank Thompson Hall, 2241 E. Dunn Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607, on the N.C. State University campus.
TICKETS: $18 ($4.68 NCSU students and $16 non-NCSU students, seniors 60+, and NCSU faculty and staff).
BOX OFFICE: 919-515-1100 or http://purchase.tickets.com/buy/TicketPurchase.
THEATREFEST 2015: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/theatrefest/index.html and https://www.facebook.com/events/887032094677067/.
PRESENTER: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/index.html and https://www.facebook.com/ncstateuniversitytheatre.
Born Yesterday (1946 Broadway comedy): http://www.dramatists.com/cgi-bin/db/single.asp?key=1804 (Dramatists Play Service, Inc.), http://ibdb.com/show.php?id=2149 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Born_Yesterday (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/born-yesterday-study-guide (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
Garson Kanin (Rochester, NY-born playwright and screenwriter, 1912-99): http://www.garsonkanin.com/ (official website), http://ibdb.com/person.php?id=5745 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0437717/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garson_Kanin (Wikipedia).
Rachel Klem (Durham director and NCSU acting coach and instructor): http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/staff/ (NCSU staff listing).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.