My friend was thoroughly impressed when I explained to her that it’s really no big deal for me to spend $25 on dinner at Zed’s Ethiopian Restaurant in Georgetown; $5 on a single box of Cheerios from District Market; $10 as a donation to the “Bum on Virginia Avenue”; and $200,000 on college tuition. Actually, it is a big deal – I’m on a tight budget and free meals have certainly become one of the highlights of college life.
While I’m not the type of person to publicly flaunt my daily spending, Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday (directed by Kyle Donnely) portrays characters who are just that type. This lighthearted romantic comedy centers on the life of Harry Brock (Jonathan Fried), a shady tycoon who loves the fact that he can spend $235 on a suite in the Willard Hotel and can speak of nothing more than his prominent social standing. Although history makes the claim that wealth is power, Born Yesterday conveys that it may not always lead to happiness, at least in the case of Mr. Brock.
In an effort to bribe a few congressmen, Mr. Brock moves to the heart of Washington, D.C., with his flighty showgirl Billie (Suli Holum), who prances about in tight, chic clothing and high heels, her appearance being her only saving grace in an intellectual society of aristocratic entrepreneurs and politicians. Though Harry isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, he finds Billie’s ignorance and stupidity to be an embarrassment, and he hires reporter Paul Verall (Michael Bakkensen) to instruct her in politics and other real-world matters. Mr. Brock doubts that any relationship will form between his attractive chorus girl and the geeky reporter, but his self-assurance begins to decline as Paul’s infatuation for Billie steadily intensifies. Through the mutually beneficial relationship between Paul and Billie, the new pair comes to recognize Harry’s corruption and collaborates to gradually rid him of his wealth.
Moreover, many comments that pertain to political matters were acknowledged with a wave of applause, a reaction that must have been enhanced by the theater’s locale within Washington, D.C. For example, when Billie innocently inquires, “What’s a Democrat?” the clever response is “the opposite of Republican,” a statement that triggered an outbreak of laughter that would not have been found in any other city.
Despite the incredibly cute plotline that makes the show nearly impossible to abhor, Born Yesterday would not hold the same appeal without Suli Holum as the star female performer. Her high-pitched New York accent, animated personality, perky enthusiasm and classic costumes contribute to the overall vivaciousness of the play and present an essence of humor that would otherwise be deficient.
As a girl who progresses from a brainless ditz in semi-provocative attire to a quick-witted woman in sophisticated 40s apparel, Billie proves an inspiration to all women seeking to discover themselves in a world of fraud and corruption.
Born Yesterday will be at Arena Stage until Nov. 6. Tickets can be ordered from the theater’s Web site, www.arenastage.org, or by calling 202-488-3300. All students with a valid college ID receive a 35 percent discount off ticket prices. Also, Arena Stage College Night for Born Yesterday will be held Thursday, Oct. 20 at 8 p.m. With a valid college ID, tickets are $10 for students.