Saturday, April 30, 2016

Born Yesterday: Knowledge is Power

by Jenni Morin

In the 70 years since Born Yesterday was penned by Garson Kanin, the nature of the government seems to have changed very little as corrupt officials and crooked businessmen sticking their fingers in politics continue to have more say than the people. With great attention to detail and a superb cast, The Classic Theatre of San Antonio proves Born Yesterday is just as relevant as it was in 1946.

Greg Hinojosa and Hayley Burnside in
The Classic Theatre's Born Yesterday.
When nefarious businessman Harry Brock comes to Washington, D.C. to bribe Senator Norval Hedges to pass legislation for his profit, his lawyer Ed Devery points out that his unrefined and flighty girlfriend, Billie Dawn, may become a liability in his business dealings. Enlisting the services of Journalist Paul Verrall to smarten her up, Brock is blind to their growing feelings and how Billie's new knowledge could backfire and put their whole arrangement in jeopardy.

At its core, Born Yesterday is a power struggle between the little guy (or lady), the big guy, and government, with truth and knowledge being the key to power. No matter how much Brock beats Billie, either emotionally or physically, she overcomes her subservience to get the better hand. A great analogy for the play manifests in the scene where she continually beats in him in Gin rummy after he taught her to play. The current political climate certainly adds to the script’s appeal as Brock eerily mirrors the fast-talking, fake-looking, catchphrase-spouting caricature dominating the 2016 primary election. In a sense, Verrall issues a call to action for the people to educate themselves in order to make an informed decision, especially when they feel their elected officials are not justly representing their constituents. By the end, Born Yesterday is as much about female empowerment as it is about democracy as Billie literally gets some sense knocked into her and is able to leverage her power to right wrongs and get what she wants and deserves.

Matthew Byron Cassi directs a compelling production chock full of significant, yet often silent, moments that simultaneously give the characters depth and motivation. The set design by Karen Arredondo-Starr stayed faithful to the period with a dark marble fa├žade adorned with art deco architectural details and accented by postmodern furnishing and Kendall Davila’s stunning geometric floor artwork. Always acutely aware of the details, the Classic’s impeccably decorated set was complimented by Diane Malone’s period-appropriate head-to-toe costuming. Rick Malone’s sound design set the mood with Victrola-era harmonies about the nostalgia of romance and the lighting design by Steven Starr set the scene. 

As Harry Brock, Greg Hinojosa is a charismatic womanizer who overcompensates and is quick to anger, but still able to draw sympathy – quite an acting feat. Hayley Burnside gives Billie Dawn life with an unending range or facial expressions and ability to engage an audience throughout an elongated, yet revealing, game of gin. Nick Lawson harnesses the passion and righteousness of Paul Verrall while mastering physical comedy and eloquent speeches. Byrd Bonner admirably portrays the dishonest lawyer with his knack for the language and cadence of period dramas, albeit somewhat forced at times. Chuck Wigginton’s Senator Norvall Hedges makes an accurate impression as a bribeable pushover with his haughty wife played spot-on by Alexandra Montgomery. Gabriel Sanchez portrays a great henchman as Eddie Brock. The hotel staff made up of Catie Carlisle, Ross Avant, Alejandro Pesina, and Bekka Broyles do their best work in their physicality and telling glances. Altogether, the well-rounded cast offers a natural, even, and very entertaining performance.

The technical orchestration and organic acting provided a beautiful pace, allowing The Classic’s production of Born Yesterday to be impactful, engaging, and insightful. Born Yesterday urges the so-called weak and powerless to channel knowledge into a productive and liberating movement to pursue what and who they want to be.


Born Yesterday will run at The Classic Theatre through May 22, 2016 with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit classictheatre.org.

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