BWW Review: BORN YESTERDAY at Ocean State Theatre Company is Scary/Funny
On opening night, Garson Kanin's BORN YESTERDAY had 'em rolling in the aisles at the Ocean State Theatre Company (OSTC) in Warwick. Actually, the first act had 'em rolling in the aisles; the second act had 'em marching in the streets. Kanin's play premièred in 1946, had a very successful run on Broadway, was made into a film version in 1950 (Judy Holliday won the Oscar for best actress playing the dumb blonde, Billie Dawn) and seems extremely relevant today. BORN YESTERDAY tells the story of a vulgar, egotistical, brutal and very wealthy junkman named Harry Brock (Robert Ierardi), who travels to Washington in post World War II America to buy influence and congressmen. Ierardi's Harry Brock gets more venal and sinister as we learn more about him. He has brought along his dumb blonde concubine, Billie Dawn (Lara Hayhurst), but then makes the mistake of hiring a tutor, Paul Verrall (Michael Jennings Mahoney), to broaden her education and make her more socially acceptable. Blossoming under Paul's tutelage, the erstwhile dumb blonde ends up undoing the capitalist thug. What a tale for our times!
The first act completely belongs to Lara Hayhurst, making her OSTC debut as Billie Dawn. She is uncouth and uneducated ("I am stupid, and I like it!), but she is also clever and knowing. The scene with Billie and Harry sitting down to play gin is worth the price of the ticket. Hayhurst's background in musical theater shows through as she off-handedly hums Anything Goes (Billie had been a chorus girl) while trouncing Harry in cards. While Hayhurst is on stage, BORN YESTERDAY is a thing of beauty.
Things get darker as Billie gets brighter in the second act. At one point she confronts Harry about his crooked dealings and gets a beating for her efforts. She and Verrall are in danger from the rich trash man, and it does not seem clear how they will extricate themselves. They do though, and Billie's newfound confidence and intelligence, along with her redirected street smarts, carry the day. The second act seemed a little long, but the relevance to today's news made it hard to look away, and Hayhurst's Billie gets funny again at the last while Ierardi's Harry get his. Imagine it though, rich people trying to buy influence in Washington-whoever heard of such a thing? Today's news gives the audience a real rooting interest in BORN YESTERDAY.
The set, which featured some lovely Ethan Allen furniture, did seem to faithfully recreate the 1950's-although I must admit, no one in my family could ever had afforded the price of the hotel suite where the action occurs.
BORN YESTERDAY runs until Sunday Feb. 12 with evening performances Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 and Sunday matinees at 2:00. OSTC is located at 1245 Jefferson Blvd. in Warwick. Running time is two hours and forty minutes, including intermission. Tickets are $37-59 with discounts on Thursays and "rush" tickets are available one hour prior to curtain the day of a performance. Tickets are available by calling (401) 921 6800 or online at www.OceanStatetheater.org. The theater is completely handicapped accessible.