Total Rating: 
April 30, 2017
Remy Bumppo Theater Company
Theater Type: 
The Greenhouse
Theater Address: 
2257 North Lincoln Avenue
Garson Kanin

Since its premiere in 1946, Garson Kanin's satirical comedy, Born Yesterday, has been largely reduced to a retread of the Pygmalion myth, in which learned men endeavor to educate ignorant women, only to meet with unanticipated results. With present events precipitating renewed interest in cultural divisions refuting our society's claim to interclass fluidity, however, the ramifications of this deceptively frivolous North-American classic take the foreground.

Initiating the dramatic action is industrial tycoon Harry Brock, whose stockpiles of Depression-era scrap metal provided the munitions ensuring our victory in the recently concluded war, and who has now brought his money to Washington with the intent of persuading a few senators to support laws favoring his interests. He is accompanied by his decorative girl friend, Billie Dawn, whose droll manners clash with the appearance of respectability needed to accomplish his goals, so Harry's solution is to hire his consort a tutor — Paul Varrell, a crusading reporter for The New Republic. The dweebish journalist's unswerving moral compass gradually introduces Billie to ideologies at the foundation of our government, leading her to become suspicious of her protector's disreputable business practices.

A cursory look at our nation's history will attest to praiseworthy dynasties often arising from dubious origins, but the course of this Remy Bumppo production differs from tradition in that it does not fault Harry and Billie for their plebian birth, nor for their less-than-honorable means of escaping the deprivations engendered thereby, but for their refusal to abandon these unethical values when fortune renders such draconian measures no longer necessary. Billie might be alone in her discovery by play's end that altruism and sacrifice are not mutually exclusive, but a brief moment when Harry peruses a book before savagely destroying it, hints at the possibility of his transformation, too.

Director David Darlow's rejection of old-school stereotypes is also evident in his casting in the role of Harry — not a replica of the robber-baron caricature providing the model for insecure real-life arrivistes to this day — with Sean Michael Sullivan, whose imposing height invokes the requisite menace, even as his wiry physique and sinewy countenance bespeak the early poverty fueling Harry's dog-eat-dog world view.

Nostalgic playgoers are free to revel in the rom-com chemistry of Eliza Stoughton and Greg Matthew Anderson, sturdy character turns by Shawn Douglass and Brian Parry, and a score of vintage big-band hits assembled by Christopher Kriz, but our takeaway for 2017 is that our future lies in the enlightenment of the Harry Brocks as well as the Billie Dawns.

This review first appeared in Windy City Times, 4/17
Mary Shen Barnidge
Date Reviewed: 
April 2017