By Garson Kanin
Thursday-Sunday, through April 13
Presented by Studio Players, 14 Alvin Place
Studioplayhouse.org, or 973-744-9752 for tickets
By GWEN OREL
“Born Yesterday” at Studio Players deserves applause: not just for the solid production of Garson Kanin’s 1946 Washington satire, but also for its lines about integrity and government.
“It’s a free country,” one character says. Another menacingly replies, “Is it?”
Turns out, it is.
Billie Dawn (Julie Anne Nolan), the quintessential “dumb blonde,” learns about Civics and government for the first time, thanks to the tutelage of journalist Paul Verrall (Robert Barwick).
Because it’s all new to her, she expects it all to run the way it’s supposed to.
So when she tells an ex attorney general Ed Devery (Rick Brown), who now assists her millionaire, corrupt boyfriend, Harry Brock (Ken Budris), “You don’t like to be doing his dirty work, because you know you’re better than him,” her barb hits home.
Especially when she follows it up with, “But I’m not so sure. Maybe you’re worse.”
The 1950 film starred Judy Holliday, reprising her Broadway role as Billie Dawn, and William Holden as Verrall.
At play’s open, ex-chorus girl Billie is grumpy about the move to D.C., and the many papers Brock needs her to sign. Her ignorance could damage Brock, so he gets her a tutor.
And guess what?
The dumb blonde is not so dumb.
Studio Players embraces a period feel to the show, with wonderful pull-curtains. Other parts of the set, designed by director Alex Oleksij, succeed less well: the wallpaper looks like stapled-on wrapping paper.
As a director, however, Oleksij succeeds. Despite its three acts, “Born Yesterday” flies by, and Oleksij brings out the humor.
As that blowhard, Budris, who always brings nuance to his roles, shows us emotion beneath the bluster. As cowed Senator Hedges, Dickson Lane’s umbrage at the word “bribery” is almost eerie, it’s so current.
Barwick’s Verall has chemistry with Nolan’s Billie, but he needs more outrage by the play’s end.
Brown’s Devery nicely delivers the sardonic lines of someone who knows better, but has sold out (though he seems a bit too sober).
It’s Nolan who runs away with the show. The growl in Billie’s voice, and her twinkle when she reels off a new word, are irresistible. She’s a truth teller, an innocent and a sharpie, all in one. Her growing awareness of the town’s corruption, and of her own choices in life, touch the heart too. No wonder Brock wishes he could hire someone to make her dumb again.
But he can’t.