Born Yesterday
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Kim Taylor

Hollywood writer and director Garson Kanin wrote his first play, Born Yesterday in 1945. It opened in New York on February 4, 1946 with Judy Holliday playing the part of Billie Dawn, dumb blond and lover of racketeer Harry Brock. In 1946 many critics couldn’t find anything socially redeeming in the play or its characters. True, everyone is on the take to one degree or another, corrupted by power and money, but to an audience of today, the characters simply take on different shades of gray. There are no pure saints or sinners in today’s world so we invariably root for the characters with the lighter shades of gray particularly Dawn and reporter Paul Verral. They’re simply two people caught up in the struggles of humanity’s dual nature.

But there really isn’t any great depth to this play. It’s meant to be a comedy with a message about authority and corruption. What really makes Marin Classic Theatre’s current production of Born Yesterday entertaining is the unique quality each of the actors bring to their parts particularly Marlene Shapiro as Billie Dawn and Artie Gilbert as her gangster lover Harry Brock.

Shapiro is perfect as a dumb blond. But, while playing a stereotyped character Shapiro subtly factors in a mysterious force of nature, a wild force to be reckoned with yet still maintains an innocence like the sea which could pound the shoreline in one part of the world with a raging storm yet gently lap a sandy beach elsewhere.

Gilbert, Marin Classic Theatre’s lovable Creative Director and co-founder, steps on to the stage after directing for three years. It’s hard to imagine such a nice guy playing the brutal racketeer Harry Brock but that’s called acting, and Gilbert does such a good job, I was afraid to shake his hand and congratulate him after the performance.

Brock is a user and abuser of everyone he comes in contact with including politicians, lawyers and women. But when he decides to do business in Washington D.C., he realizes that he needs to educate Dawn so she could hobnob with congressmen and their wives. But when he hires reporter Paul Verrall (Sid Marsh), who he pronounces virile in a Freudian slip, all hell breaks loose. Not only does Dawn learn enough from reading books to question Brock’s business dealings, but when she compares him to the gentle Verrall, she begins to question Brock as an authority figure and as a man.

The entire cast of Born Yesterday, under the direction of David Kester, puts on a very entertaining drama. If there is a message to this play, it’s “question authority” not only at a time when our nation was fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam but during patriotic times like WWII and now.

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