The selection of a Maltz Jupiter Theatre mainstage season is a lengthy process, so it is important to keep reminding yourself that Garson Kanin’s political satire-screwball comedy, Born Yesterday, was chosen before the current resident of the White House – who shall go nameless here – was elected president.
For this Washington-based romp concerns wealthy scrap metal magnate Harry Brock, a guy full of bluster who is accustomed to getting his own way. He has come to the nation’s capital to secure a bill amendment that will favor his business, without really knowing how our government works. But he suspects it has something to do with buying a few senators.
Come on, doesn’t that remind you of someone who has been in the news lately?
The production that opens the Maltz’s 13th season has a lot to recommend it besides that feeling of being ripped from the headlines, but it also leaves a nagging feeling that the play is beginning it show its age. In addition, a casting choice and a lead performance get in the way of our complete enjoyment of the show.
Born Yesterday is one part Pygmalion and one part civics lesson in democracy. In Brock’s entourage is his longtime mistress, squeaky-voiced, empty-headed Billie Dawn. Worried that she will not fit in to sedate, serious D.C., he hires a liberal New Republic columnist, Paul Verall, to instruct her in all things federal, a subject she learns all too well.
Under Maltz veteran Peter Flynn’s direction, 70-year-old jokes land well and you will probably accept the blossoming romance between Billie and Paul, as well as Harry’s comeuppance. But in the pre-television days of 1946, plays progressed at a more leisurely pace. Particularly in the first act, it feels sluggish, bogged down by its exposition.
Still, audiences are meant to fall in love with Billie and Broadway performer Andrea Burns makes that an easy descent. The role was originated on stage and reprised on film by Judy Holiday, but Burns puts her own stamp on the endearingly ditsy character. She certainly fares better than Dominic Comperatore (Brock), who begins by bellowing and then has nowhere to grow. Darian Dauchan underplays the role of Verrall well, but for the play’s time period, casting an African-American actor gives the play an anachronistic contemporary touch.
Scenic designer Anne Mundell provides a sumptuous, multi-level hotel suite of faux-marble and gold trim. And two-time Tony Award winner Franne Lee comes up with evocative period costumes, from Billie’s initial too-flashy skirt to increasingly tasteful outfits as she becomes more savvy and self-aware.
Born Yesterday has some cobwebs on it, but as the Maltz production reminds us, it remains a play with something to say about our world, whenever it is dusted off and produced.
BORN YESTERDAY, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Road, Jupiter. Through today. $58 and up. 561-575-2223.