"Born Yesterday" @ Remy Bumppo

Theatre Review by Taylor Wisham

3 stars out of 4

The 1940s. A decade chiefly consumed by world wars. A time of Hemingway and Churchill, of Sinatra and Mussolini; before moon landings and computers. This is a period so far removed from most of our psyches, that to think we have much in common with those who dwelled “way back then” would be absurd. Yet, after leaving Remy’s Bumppo’s production of Born Yesterday at the Greenhouse Theater Center, I was more convinced than ever that we must look to our history time and time again, for we are absolutely bound to repeat it. 

A brash, rich and powerful entrepreneur waltzes into the nation’s capitol to negotiate very hush-hush business with high-ranking members of the government. He is accompanied by his brother, trusted lawyer and mistress. They all have a roll to play in his life, and if they know what’s good for them they won’t falter. Ed, the lawyer and business savvy confidant, and Eddie, the lackey brother, are all too well aware of the shady happenings. Then there’s Billie Dawn, the arm-candy that, due to her lack of astuteness, is to be seen and not heard. This motley crew is lead by the one and only Harry Brock, a man so far up his own macho persona he can hardly see when the tides begin turning against him. Brock uses the people around him as shields to keep his schemes alive and his pockets fat.  Yet, when Billie’s lack of know-how begins to be a problem, Harry enlists journalist Paul Verrall to get her whip smart in no time flat. 

Eliza Stoughton and Greg Matthew Anderson. Photo by Johnny Knight.

Born Yesterday was seamlessly directed by David Darlow, with a lovely set design by Grant Sabin. However, close and detailed attention must be paid to the acting company of this show. If ever there was a moment to question all of your talents and abilities, it’s sitting in this audience watching Eliza Stoughton give a subtle, hilarious, and charming performance as Billie Dawn. The work that had to have gone into managing to express the understated yet significant growth that Billie goes through could not have been simple. Stoughton’s work screams, “WATCH OUT WORLD, I’M A STAR” all over the stage. Though, her co-stars are no wet blankets. Sean M. Sullivan is the perfect example of an actor being so good at being bad that even after the show has ended, you still kind of hate him. His work as Harry Brock is both brave and exciting, and he carries very long scenes with such unbroken effort that you almost forget just how very long those scenes actually are. The rest of the company shines in equally connected and well-worked parts. 

As the story of Born Yesterday carries on, it’s hard not to see the connections with our current political and economical climate. It’s a blatant choice by the Remy Bumppo Theatre Company to close out their 20th season with such a standout and timely piece of work, a very smart choice. As Billie’s curiosity grows and she wises up to what’s happening around her, the point becomes crystal clear. The messages and warning signs about allowing wealthy individuals and companies to persuade government officials and legislation for their benefit are overwhelming. It’s shocking that a show written 71 years ago could still land with the same messaging, primarily because it’s clear that we as a country have yet to learn our lesson. The more we allow our rights and freedoms to be determined by people swayed too easily by money, the lower we sink as a nation. 

Overall, Born Yesterday shines as a timely piece told in a ‘40s voice, and is worth your time to check out. It will be showing until April 30 at the Greenhouse Theater Center with typical evening performances Thursday-Saturday and matinees on Sundays. Tickets can be purchased at www.RemyBumppo.org or by calling the Greenhouse at (773) 404-7336

More information is available by going to www.theatreinchicago.com.