The enduring appeal of Born Yesterday is in its optimistic movement toward truth and happiness. This romantic comedy asserts that the good may prevail-no matter how large the obstacles or how powerful its enemies. Although the show is set in 1946, this spirited production at SBCC resonated with a contemporary audience.
The cast contributed greatly to the play’s success. Winslow Corbett (last seen locally in You Can’t Take It with You at the Rubicon Theatre) is endearing as Billie Dawn. When we first see her, the blonde trophy girlfriend sways her hips and wears the pouty expression of a spoiled child. Harry Brock (Don Margolin), her crude boyfriend of nine years, is a filthy rich “junk man.” But when Harry’s business aspirations require that Billie appear more sophisticated, he hires a likeable writer, Paul Verrall (Sean O’Shea), to help the former chorus girl seem smart. The scene in which a nonchalant Billie descends a spiral staircase in a white silk nightgown to meet her tutor is delightful. “This is going to be different than I thought,” Verrall concludes quickly, taken not only with Billie’s seductive charm, but also by her free-spirited sense of humor. As the tutor, Paul coaxes Billie to read and to understand ideas because he genuinely believes that “a world full of ignorant people is dangerous to live in.”
In Act II the emphasis shifts to the theme of individual corruption. The curtain opens on an exclusive hotel suite that costs $235 per night at a time when the minimum wage was 60Â• an hour. But instead of humming the tune to Anything Goes, Billie is now listening to Mozart as she recounts a visit to the National Gallery. Her newfound enlightenment is in stark contrast to the unscrupulous and increasingly abusive Harry. Puffing his chest out at a senator (Wilson Smith) and his attorney (David Brainard), Harry succeeds only as long as others are willing to sell their principles. The meticulously performed stage business helps delineate the props in Harry’s world: whiskey, cigars, contracts, and money.
Billie’s elegant and form-fitting clothes are beautifully designed by Mary Gibson, and the aesthetically pleasing set surely would have appeared authentic even to George Cukor, who directed the popular film adaptation of Born Yesterday in 1950.