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Born Yesterday 

Director Ted Pappas, very rewardingly, stresses the politics of the piece

Ted Koch and Melissa Miller in the Public's Born Yesterday

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Public Theater

Ted Koch and Melissa Miller in the Public's Born Yesterday

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Or is that too obvious an opening for a review of the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of Born Yesterday?

Written in 1946 by Garson Kanin in the rush of idealism following the Second World War, Born Yesterday concerns a junk-metal mogul, Harry Brock, who comes to Washington, D.C., spewing bribes and making sure business-friendly legislation is passed. He's brought along his mistress, Billie Dawn, an ex-chorine with more va-va-voom than society manners. Brock enlists the help of a muckraking journalist, Paul Verrall, to "smarten her up." But Billie's education has far-reaching effects, and she's soon questioning Harry's business and personal ethics.

The play's four-year Broadway run and a subsequent film version are, of course, what made Judy Holliday a star. The gin game between Holliday and Broderick Crawford remains one of Hollywood's iconic comedy sequences.

So I salute the sheer guts of Public director Ted Pappas, and Melissa Miller as Billie, for taking a stab at it. They wisely avoid a Holliday recreation: Miller's Billie, though perhaps more crassly vulgar than necessary, is also touchingly naïve, and Miller does a fine job plotting out Billie's evolution. Daniel Krell, as Paul, and Ted Koch, as Harry, are evenly matched and enjoyable as angel and devil battling for Billie's soul.

It was possibly opening-night nerves which kept the first act from landing; everyone was perplexingly loud (we're all in the same room, kids) and some very broad playing smothered the comedy.

But following intermission, things settled down and it was smooth sailing to the end. Which is big credit to Pappas' direction because Kanin's script, though entertaining, does tend to bump along from comedy to melodrama to polemic. But Pappas finesses most of it and, very rewardingly, stresses the politics of the piece.

Although "rewardingly" could also be read as "depressingly." It's not much of a leap to see Harry Brock and his gang of capitalist thugs as the Koch brothers and their ilk, screaming about the need to service the "job creators" at the expense of the 99 percent.

The more things change ...

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