Sonoma Arts Live brings ‘Born Yesterday’ to the stage
Sonoma Arts Live went “back to the classics” with its play opening this weekend, but with “Born Yesterday,” it’s a classic that couldn’t be more relevant in today’s climate.
“Born Yesterday” features power hungry business mogul Harry Brock, played by Mike Schaeffer, who has dealings in Washington D.C. that aren’t always above the law. In light of his coming trip to D.C., he hires political reporter Paul Verall, played by David Abrams, to educate and sophisticate his brash girlfriend Billie Dawn, played by Melissa Claire.
While the play is a screwball comedy, director Carl Jordan says it has many elements that are real, honest and powerful, too.
“It’s rare to be both; really good plays touch upon the human heart and allow people to see themselves on stage in some way, shape or form, or parts of their selves or ways we want to grow or grow up or change,” Jordan said. “We want to watch it and be entertained and laugh a lot, and then maybe on the way home with your spouse you go, ‘Gee, there was maybe something special there.’”
The play first appeared on Broadway in 1946 and became a film by 1950, starring Judy Holliday, who went on to win an Academy Award and Golden Globe. Despite the 73-year age gap, the story has parallels to today.
Jordan believes the play, while not done very often anymore, has several wonderful things to say. Like any work of art, he believes people shouldn’t be told what to think about the art or what to take away but, for him, the two main points that draw parallels to today are the political and feminism aspects.
“One of the central figures in the play, Harry Brock, buys a senator to get what he wants and he bullies everyone he can to get what he wants, and that’s very apropos, without bringing up any names, about what the culture in politics in Washington are today,” Jordan said.
Claire, who plays Billie Dawn, loves playing a strong woman who has so much personality and energy that she gets to bring to life.
“Billie just says whatever comes to her mind,” Claire said. “She doesn’t have an agenda, she doesn’t have regrets, she lives very much in the moment.”
Added Claire: “As women we don’t tend to do that, we tend to second guess everything and overthink, but she just is alive and immediate, and that’s a joyous thing to play.” Claire likes how, in a screwball comedy, actors “not only use your voice in acting but your body so it’s really fun to get into the physicality of the character.”
Aside from the fun side of Billie Dawn, Claire admires the character arc of Billie really coming into her own. Paul Verall educates her and sets her on her way to become more intelligent and independent, but it really is Billie Dawn that takes hold of her own life and changes it for the better.
“As far as changing her life, that’s on her and I think she’s incredibly brave. I think that’s a difficult thing to do to look at the situation around you and create your comforts and realize there is something bigger and better,” said Claire. “She’s had a life where she hasn’t had a lot of opportunity to be anything other than the way Brock defines her, so when she realizes how strong she is, it’s a really beautiful moment.” Claire likes how, throughout the play, Billie never loses her sexuality and femininity. “Just because she gets smart doesn’t mean she changes exactly who she is.”
Jordan believes education plays a strong role in the play, and hope that is something people can take away.
“Women are allowing themselves to gain their power and who they are in life. (Billie Dawn) is really quite wonderful, and part of the thing that drives that change is educating herself, reading, becoming aware of the world and how it works. So, she changes by empowering herself,” Jordan said.
“Born Yesterday” opens April 26 with a reception at 7 p.m. and showtime at 8 p.m. The show will run until May 12, with 11 total performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. in Andrews Hall at the Sonoma Community Center.
“You can bring the whole family to it because it’s never too young to talk to kids about politics and morality. One thing Billy learns to do is stand up for herself and that’s a great lesson. It’s also a great date play, because it talks a lot about male roles versus female roles,” Claire said.