Over the years, only the best actresses have played the part of Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday. A 2011 Broadway revival featured Nina Arianda, while a 1989 revival starred Madeline Kahn. The original production from 1946, which ran for 1,642 performances until December of 1949, was what made Judy Holliday a star. When she played the role in the 1951 movie adaptation, Holliday won an Academy Award for Best Actress.
The Alley Theatre currently features Born Yesterday on the main stage and the performances of the main cast featuring Melissa Pritchett as Billie, Stephen Pelinski as mobster Harry Brock, and Jay Sullivan as nebbish reporter Paul Verrall are as good as any that have come before.
Garson Kanin, who wrote Born Yesterday, was a major Hollywood player, himself writing or helming such classics movies as My Favorite Wife along with a couple of classic Hepburn/Tracy vehicles. Consider that his play contains stereotypical archetypes — the ditzy babe, the unethical gangster, the handsome male ingénue — that would become weekly fodder on the yet to come television situation comedy du jour.
Some people may think we live in ideological times yet the characters of Born Yesterday are stuck in a time warp where the bad guys — that is to say people who lobby Congress or bribe senators — actually get their hands slapped. Brock has his comeuppance when his moll receives an education and challenges his male pomposity that has kept her in the dark. In today’s society, a person as unscrupulous as Brock would be the Republican frontrunner for president. On a side note, it is only in the last week that the name Brock became anathema to political correctness.
At one point, Brock books a hotel room for $400 a day, which adjusted for inflation would be over $3,400 in 2016 ducats.
Brock comes to Washington D.C. with the express purpose of buying politicians to pass legislation that will expand his scrap metal business to even more lofty heights. Upon being interviewed by a hot shot reporter, Brock hires said journalist to educate his fiancée. Hilarity ensues.
Born Yesterday offers laugh-out-loud laughs and the physical gestures and speeches of the players only add to the mirth.
Born Yesterday is playing at the Alley Theatre until July 3.
— Michael Bergeron