Review – ‘Born Yesterday’ at Sonoma Arts Live By Alexa Chipman
Harry Brock is on top of the world after bullying a senator, henchmen and his girlfriend into providing for his every whim. When he decides that the lovely chorus performer Billie should be more than “eye candy” on his arm, the plan to transform her into an elegant society grande dame works too well. She soaks up knowledge and culture, quickly realizing that her life is a dazzling sham and her boyfriend nothing more than a selfish mobster. Set in a glamorous Washington, D.C. hotel, this sparkling comedy has held up well since its 1946 debut.
Director Carl Jordan has tightened the lengthy vintage play into a fast-paced story with elements of farce, filled with outrageous, entertaining personalities. The bellowing, dominant Harry Brock (Ken Bacon) blusters with enthusiasm, terrorizing his staff with constant demands.
Poor Eddie Brock (Matt Farrell) tip-toes around his boss, constantly looking for excuses to sneak away, often with amusing results. Helen (RoyAnne Florence) is the maid with attitude. Although her appearances are brief, Florence captures the audience with her unflustered, sarcastic reactions to Harry’s temper tantrums.
Channeling a cheerier version of Judy Holliday’s Billie from the film, Melissa Claire hums her way through the story, always on the verge of dancing. Her Billie Dawn has an inner joy that is on the verge of breaking through, but she is forced to hide it because of Harry’s preferences. When she discovers that her life is hers alone, that fearlessness is allowed to shine. Despite an outrageous wig, Janis Snyder’s costumes are fabulous, from colorful evening dresses to a slinky 1940s boudoir wrap.
Journalist Paul Verrall (David Abrams) is an example of how strong masculinity does not have to be demonstrated by physicality and loud rants. His intelligence and unrelenting courage are an instant draw for Billie, who is fascinated by someone who is powerful in an entirely different way. Abrams gives Paul an intensity and poise as he moves about the stage, while imbuing him with an understandably nervous reaction to Billie’s sudden interest.
A bold teal scenic design by Jason Jamerson incorporates the theater’s permanent gold proscenium arch as if it is part of the hotel. The result opens up the stage, creating the illusion of a spacious area for the action.
‘Born Yesterday’ is an animated, empowering story of what happens when women are given the education and space to become their best selves. It has moments of silliness and horror, maintaining a healthy balance between the two. Have a few laughs and enjoy this talented ensemble at Sonoma Arts Live.
Presented by Sonoma Arts Live through May 12, 2019 Thur/Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm Tickets: $28-40
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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