Born again: fresh take on 1940s comedy about Washington corruption

Britni Leslie is showgirl mistress Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday this June.COMEDY, corruption and sexy 1940s charm come to the Old Mill Theatre this June in the play Born Yesterday.

Written by Garson Kanin – responsible for many Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn films – it follows the uncouth, corrupt and rich junk dealer Harry Brock and what happens when he brings his showgirl mistress Billie Dawn to Washington DC.

After realising it was a mistake, Brock hires a journalist to educate Billie so she stays out of the way, which proves to be another misstep. Billie realises the extent of Brock’s corruption and interferes with his plans to bribe a congressman into passing legislation that would allow his business to make more money.

After being a major Broadway success, Born Yesterday was adapted into a 1950 film with Judy Holliday who scored an Academy Award for playing Billie. The play experienced successful Broadway revivals in 1989 and 2011 and was again made into a film in 1993 with Melanie Griffith, John Goodman and Don Johnson.

Director Noel O’Neill said Born Yesterday appealed to him because of its themes of corruption within a comedy.by4

“I like the comedic brute force and ignorance of the Harry Brock character and the Pymaglion-esque quality of Billie Dawn,” he said. “For those that don’t know, Pygmalion is a George Bernard Shaw play the musical My Fair Lady was based on and Billie has a similar Eliza Doolittle transformation.”

Born in Ireland, O’Neill moved to New York in his late teens and studied acting with Lee Strasberg and Herbert Berghof, appearing in many off-Broadway productions including One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Of Mice and Men. Since moving to Perth 12 years ago, he has appeared on stage and directed and written numerous shows for the Old Mill and KADS Theatres, Graduate Dramatic Society and the Irish Theatre Players.

O’Neill has won numerous awards for writing, directing and currently lectures for the WA Academy of Performing Arts and Perth Actors’ Collective, also writing and directing the Old Mill Theatre’s most recent show No Bed of Roses.

Journalist Paul Verrall (Robert Ross) has the task of educating Billie Dawn (Britni Leslie) in Born Yesterday. “The main challenge with Born Yesterday is taking the actors back to the 1940s and early 1950s because the characters are the sort we rarely see today and the dialogue is different,” he said. “The play also demands lots of energy from the actors because they are all very well-written character roles.”

Born Yesterday plays at 8pm, May 31, June 1, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 15 with a 2pm matinee June 9. Tickets are $25, $20 concession – book on 9367 8719, oldmilltheatre@iinet.net.au or at http://oldmilltheatre.com.au/tickets/.