'Born Yesterday' is a delightfully comic political allegory for trying times
Melbourne Theatre Company returns for 2017 with a jam-packed season, kicking things off with Born Yesterday a '40s classic that rings particularly true today.
A fascinating portrayal of Washington corruption, political power-plays and the vulnerable reality of own flawed democracy, the production offers a compelling take on the current state of US politics without drowning under the weight of its own brevity.
In fact, the play itself is delightfully funny – and this combination of insightful allegory and laugh-out-loud moments work in tandem to great effect, thanks in part to the artful vision of Director Dean Bryant.
Harry Brock – a brash, domineering junkyard tycoon – has set upon Washington to further his stranglehold, fancying himself as a modern day Napoleon. He has all the riches in the world, but now he lusts for something more: influence and power.
Russell Dykstra manages to straddle the line between genuinely menacing and hopelessly funny. With his rough Jersey accent echoing that of Trump's, the simple task of opening a gift basket proves too complex for him, much to the audience's laughter. Oozing with braggadocio, he embodies the American fable of rags-to-riches – rising from the junkyards of Jersey to the big leagues of Washington. Albeit, without ever truly wiping the grease from his hands.
Christie Whelan Browne is sensational as Billie Dawn, and just about steals the show with her pitch-perfect delivery, comedic timing and old-world charm. At the play's beginning, we see her as a brash, unruly and proudly anti-intellectual character – blissfully ignorant of the corrupt business dealings going on around her. By the time the second act reaches its conclusion, she's transformed from a pawn in a game she's never known the rules to into an active, defiant and fearlessly intelligent woman. It's a thrill to watch unfold, with the audience behind her every step of the way.
Joel Jackson as the idyllic Paul Verral acts as great foil to Whelan Browne's delightfully vivacious character, with his own fearless devotion to justice, truth – and above all else, a utopian love of democracy itself – proving a timely inspiration for journalists and media in a time where Washington is lying through its teeth at every chance it gets.
Born Yesterday functions both as a fast-paced comedy and a cautionary political tale while succeeding on both fronts. As the play comes to its conclusion, it's clear that the ideals of democratic freedom win out in the end, as fiction in this vein is more than entitled to do. Time will tell whether life has the ability to imitate art in our own current state of affairs.
By James Di Fabrizio
Image: Jeff Busby