Arena's Fun Look at 'Yesterday'; D.C. Political Scene from '40S Gets a Flamboyant Depiction

Article excerpt

Byline: Jayne Blanchard, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Arena's production of "Born Yesterday" has an air of yesteryear about it, from the drumbeat-pounding big band music and the tom-tom staccato of playwright Garson Kanin's dialogue, to the comedy's flag-waving sensibilities and the evocation of postwar America as a "can-do" country full of crazy schemes and unlimited possibilities.

Under the astute direction of Kyle Donnelly, the depiction of Washington in 1946 is so flamboyant and fun that you are immediately nostalgic for what the city was like in that era. Even the corrupt businessmen and politicos had a certain savoir faire, not the dreary, buttoned-down types you see today.

What makes you even more sentimental is the attitude of the press in "Born Yesterday." Bespectacled reporter Paul Verrall (Michael Bakkensen, who comes off as a sexier, spiffier version of pundit Al Franken) may be a blazing advocate for a democracy that is as good as its people, but he also respects the boundaries of privacy. That junkyard baron Harry Brock (Jonathan Fried) has a mistress - the bombastic Billie Dawn (Suli Holum) - does not faze him a bit, nor does he feel the need to impart that information to his readers. He's more interested in corporate scoundrels like Harry and keeping politicians honest.

A tall order, but Paul finds an unexpected ally in his quest for an unsullied government in Billie Dawn.

Harry, who has come to Washington to buy a couple of senators who can help him realize his plans for global scrap metal domination, employs Paul as a tutor to make Billie seem less like a chorus girl and more like a countess.

Miss Holum's scene-stealing portrayal of Billie includes a dumb-blonde voice that sounds like a set of squeaky brakes and a wardrobe of figure-hugging fashions that display more curves than the Rock Creek Parkway, but her Billie is no bubblehead.

Just look at the hilarious, classic bit made famous by Judy Holliday in both the stage and screen versions of "Born Yesterday," where Harry teaches Billie how to play gin rummy. They face each other across the table like sworn enemies, with Billie's manicured nails snapping the cards and lining them up like tiny missiles. Before Harry can even get some small talk in edgewise, Billie crows "Gin. …