“They always hook ya in the end, them broads .... A whole trouble account of a dame reads a book.”
With that, slightly shady “junkman” Harry Brock (David Cochran Heath) sums up the premise of the classic 1946 Garson Kanin comedy “Born Yesterday,” now getting a delightful production at Vista’s Avo Playhouse.
Jason Heil directs the piece, now remembered mostly for the 1950 film that starred Judy Holliday as the “dame” in question.
Part political satire and part romantic comedy, “Born Yesterday” is set in a posh Washington, D.C. hotel where Brock and his entourage are ensconced while they lobby Senator Hedges (Danny Campbell) for legislation that will allow Harry to set up a global post-war recovery operation for scrap iron.
Harry’s group includes his cousin and factotum Eddie (Paul Morgavo); his attorney Ed Devery (Jim Chovick) and his gorgeous mistress Billie Dawn (Jessica John), a retired showgirl and diamond in the rough. It’s Billie who signs the business papers, becoming a “multiple corporate officer” even though she doesn’t know what that means or what she’s signing.
Almost the first person Harry meets is journalist Paul Verrall (Brian Mackey), who lives down the hall and comes to interview the “junkyard don” for “The New Republic.”
Harry operates in bulldozer mode most of the time, but his money allows him to get away with it. But when Devery suggests that bringing Billie (with her equally less than elegant manners) might not have been the best idea in this high-stakes, upscale atmosphere, Harry hires Paul to show her the ropes and teach her how to act in polite, or at least socially important company.
It’s a simple premise, nicely developed by Kanin and delightfully portrayed by this cast. Heath is terrific as the mug with the bucks. Though Harry lacks charm and tact and even has a disquieting penchant for threats and violence, Heath manages to make him a riveting character.
John is a hoot as Billie, the diamond in the rough who not only gets her edges smoothed but even develops a sense of history and ethics in the few months she hangs out with Paul. If it happens more quickly than credibly, so what? John’s way with a toss of the head, a disdainful glance or a telling gesture will keep you enthralled ... and so will her fabulous costumes by designers Roslyn Lehman and Renetta Lloyd.
Though Mackey’s Paul may seem a somewhat unlikely romantic interest for Billie, he’s a good foil for her and it’s fun to watch the two of them.
Chovick convinces as Devery, who has traded in his idealism and ethics for a guaranteed $100,000-a-year job working for his lone client.
Campbell’s Sen. Hedges reminds us that not much has changed in the way legislation is written in Congress, though we can’t help but giggle ruefully when Brock hollers, “That’s why I’m here – to get what I paid for!”
Morgavo does a fine job as cousin Eddie. Dee Kelly (as Mrs. Hedges), Savvy Scopelleti (as Helen the maid) and Conor Tibbs (in two roles) round out the cast.
Bravo to Heil, whose direction keeps the pace going, the laughs coming and the message unmistakable but painless, and to Marty Burnett for another spectacular set.
Bouquets also to Paul Canaletti Jr. and Peter Hashagen for their fine lighting and sound design.
“Born Yesterday” is a winner for Moonlight Stage Productions, and evidence that an old play is not necessarily an outdated one.
“Born Yesterday” plays through April 7 at Moonlight Stage Productions’ Avo Playhouse, 300 Main St., Vista.
Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 pm; matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm
Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or HERE.
To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.