By ELIZABETH SHEPHERD
For The Beachcomber
Want to hear a scintillating tale of political corruption and greed run amok, spiced up with romantic intrigue and comic shenanigans?
If so, you could always turn to tomorrow’s headlines about what is going on in the nation’s capital, but a more refreshing idea might be to get tickets to see “Born Yesterday.” The show is now being staged by Drama Dock as its debut offering at the gorgeous new Vashon High School theater.
It’s a glorious play. Written by Garson Kanin, the play opened on Broadway in 1946, in the glow of America’s post-war optimism. But Kanin’s hit comedy wasn’t a flag-waving paean to America’s greatness, but rather, a cautionary tale about the ease with which powerful players might steal our democracy away.
Meet the main characters, and you’ll know the plot.
Harry Brock (played with menacing brutishness by Peter Kreitner) is an uncouth gazillionaire who arrives in Washington D.C. to buy some legislation to help him expand his war-profiteering empire. He brings along his flak and fixer, Jim Devery (imbued with sparkling cynicism in a performance by Rich Wiley), and his arm candy — a wise-cracking blonde showgirl, Billie Dawn, played with aplomb by one of Vashon’s most versatile actresses, Stephanie Murray.
Soon enough, Harry has found a venal senator (played by Gordon Millar) to befriend, but he has a problem — he’s embarrassed by Billie’s lack of sophistication in D.C.’s heady social circles. Enter Paul Verrall (played by another stellar actor, Marshall Murray), a young newspaperman hired by Harry to clean up Billie’s grammar and give her a little polish.
This Pygmalion plan, of course, backfires as Billie blossoms under Paul’s tutelage. As it turns out, she’s no blonde bimbo after all, but rather, one smart cookie with the means and motivation to sink the ships of all the 1-percenters who surround her.
“I want everybody to be smart, as smart as they can be,” Paul says in the play, in words that still ring as true in 2014 as they did in 1946. “A world of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.”
Drama Dock does a fine job with the show, from the sumptuous set designed by Chris Ott and the show’s able director, Chaim Rosemarin, to lovely costumes by Lori Lowrance. It’s clear that a small army of volunteers worked day and night behind the scenes to bring the show to life on the stage and that Drama Dock spent no small amount of money to present it in a way meant to defy all expectations about the limitations of community theater.
The 12-member cast of the show is great — you’ll laugh plenty as some of Vashon’s most capable supporting players make the most of their small roles as the henchmen, maids, bellhops, hotel managers, manicurists and barbers forced to wait hand and foot on ungrateful elites.
But the show belongs to Stephanie Murray, whose portrayal of the ditzy Billie drives the night. Murray pulls out all the stops in the juicy role, not only finding its comedic gold but also the perfect arc of Billie’s poignant and powerful transformation. In one gem of a scene early in the play, as Billie plays a hilarious game of gin rummy with her bully of a boyfriend, it doesn’t take long to realize that Murray has plenty of cards up her sleeve. Simply put, she’s a winner.
— Elizabeth Shepherd is the director of children’s programming at the Northwest Film Forum and The Beachcomber’s former arts editor.
“Born Yesterday” will be performed again at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at Vashon High School. Tickets, $12 and $15, are on sale at Vashon Bookshop, www.brownpapertickets.com and at door.