Tuesday, 30 March 1999
Born Yesterday, MTC, 30 March 1999
by Garson Kanin
Melbourne Theatre Company at Playhouse
to May 1, 1999
Reviewer: KATE HERBERT on 30 March, 1999
Think of a really long blonde joke blended with Pigmalion and Citizen Kane, add some Al Capone overtones and you have a snapshot of the style of Born Yesterday, the 1949 play written by Garson Kanin.
Yes, it is the same as the Judy Holliday movie with William Holden and Broderick Crawford made in 1950. Some snazzy bits were added for the screenplay but the meat and potatoes are still there in Kanin's pithy script: witty dialogue, broad characterisations, light political commentary and early feminism.
Knowledge is power, democracy is sacred and love cannot be bought: these epithets are the foundation of Kanin's philosophy.
Harry Brock (John Wood) is a self-made, self-centred junk-yard millionaire, a thug "who has always lived at the top of his voice." He made his money by stealing, cheating and, now, in Washington, he proposes to bribe a senator to ensure the passing of an amendment to Brock's own advantage.
The weak link is his cheap, dumb, ex-show-girl girlfriend, Billie Dawn (Alison Whyte). He 'buys' a bleeding heart, intellectual journalist, Paul Vernell, (Greg Stone) to educate her so she will not embarrass him in capital city drawing rooms. Inconveniently, the showgirl and the journo fall for each other. She begins by using her looks -her only asset so far in her life- to seduce him, but ends up in love.
Bruce Myles direction is swift, slick, detailed and well-paced taking advantage of a skilful and evenly matched cast. Whyte, playing the blonde with red hair, is quirky, brassy with superb comic timing and resonant in all ways of Holliday. Wood remains likeable as the brawny, sometimes violent Mr. Big and is well-supported by John McTernan as his corrupt lawyer and Gil Tucker as his weedy lackey.
Terence Donavan is suitably oily as the obsequious senator. Amongst the cameo roles, Katerina Kotsonis as chief maid is a treat.
Tony Tripp's design of luxurious hotel suite of blonde (how apt) wood parquetry and sweeping stir, lit with flair by Jamieson Lewis, sets the scene for graft and corruption.
This show is entertaining but is an unusual choice for a contemporary Australian company. Kanin may have been ahead of his own time with movie scripts such as Adam's Rib written with his wife, Ruth Gordon, but Born Yesterday remains a clever period piece.