It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a show where my opinion drastically changed over the course of the evening. This is exactly what happened during Moonlight Stage Productions presentation of Born Yesterday, which is a rare example of a play where the quality of the storytelling rises after intermission.
In 1946, a ruthless and wealthy self-made businessman, Harry Brock (David Cochran Heath) travels to a luxury hotel in Washington DC with his unsophisticated, former chorus-girl, lover, Billie Dawn (Jessica John), subservient cousin, Eddie Brock (Paul Morgavo) and witty yes man attorney, Ed Devery (Jim Chovick). All of them are staying together so Harry can continue to grow in power. Embarrassed by Billie’s lack of knowledge and uncompromising attitude, Harry hires an intelligent journalist who lives at the hotel, Paul Verrall (Brian Mackey) to help her become more well rounded and to smooth over her rough edges. This leads to more than what Harry bargained for after Billie realizes that her boyfriend is an immoral bully after he bribes the wealthy Senator Hedges (Danny Campbell).
Act I of Born Yesterday is pretty dull because of the script from famous writer, Garson Kanin. The performers try to do everything they can to inject life into their characters, but the story suffers from a lot of exposition that prohibits the audience from getting hooked into the story.
Also, it doesn’t help that many of the jokes early on are hokey and predictable. So much of the humor fell flat that at times, I felt like I was Tommy Lee Jones at the Golden Globes and couldn’t crack a smile despite the hijinks going on.
During the break, I was afraid that the comedy would continue to roll downhill and result in a poor Pygmalion knockoff. Others most have felt this way, because there were many empty seats in the Avo Theatre when the remaining two acts began. I was relieved that the best was yet to come.
Kanin’s prose improve significantly primarily because the tone makes a dramatic shift. What started out as a mediocre lighthearted romp about a woman changing her lifestyle morphs into a Frank Capraesque tale about moral people trying to overcome greed.
Until Act II, Billie is the only interesting individual on stage. The other roles were poorly developed and weak comedic stereotypes. Later on, they all become more interesting and I was more emotionally invested in watching how everyone developed. Harry, Paul, Eddie and Ed feel more distinct not because the ensemble necessarily improved. In fact, the acting is the most consistently strong aspect about Born Yesterday. It is that the players became much more three dimensional as events progress.
Most importantly, the remainder of Born Yesterday is actually pretty funny. The satire starts to sting and seeing Billie successfully becoming cleverer is both hilarious and crowd pleasing.
With first-rate costumes from Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd, authentic scenery from Marty Burnett and Director Jason Heil’s sure hand direction, Born Yesterday ends up becoming a pleasantly enjoyable surprise, even if it takes too much time to get going. Just don’t leave during intermission. You can thank me later.