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Politics, Deals, Power Brokers, Blonde Bombshells Are Back in Born Yesterday
Posted on Wednesday, October 27 @ 15:39:10 EDT by jfbailey
WPCNR STAGE DOOR. By John F. Bailey. October 27, 2004: The second season of the White Plains Performing Arts Center gets into swing Friday evening when Born Yesterday, the 1946 comedy by Garson Kanin debuts at the City Place palace. The play that made Judy Holiday a star, twice made into movies, presents characters familiar to the White Plains landscape: politicians, lobbyists, investigative reporters, buxom broads, lawyers, business tycoons and moneyed interests hustling government for an angle. The show is just in from Queens Theatre in the Park in Flushing, WPPAC's sister theater where Tony Stimac, Producing Director for WPPAC, says it had a very successful run before good audiences, and received letters of congratulations from members of the audience on the show. "It's been a big success for him," Stimac said.
WPCNR interviewed the three leads in the New York Theatre Institute(of Troy, NY) production for White Plains Performing Arts Center prior to their arrival in town for Friday’s opening. John Romeo as Harry Brock (right) threatens reporter Paul Verrall played by David Bunce, while Billie Dawn, played by Mary Jane Hansen is caught in the middle of the triangle in NYSTI's production of Garson Kanin's Born Yesterday. Directed by Ed. Lange, the critically acclaimed production will perform at NYSTI, Queens Theatre in the Park, and White Plains Performing Arts Center from October 29- November 7. Photo, Tim Raab/ Northern Photo.
BY stars David Bunce, a 22-year veteran of NYSTI, as investigative reporter from The New Republic, who senses a story in the arrival in Washington of free-wheeling trash baron, Harry Brock, played by John Romeo, a 26-year veteran of the NYSTI boards. Brock has arrived with his platinum blonde gal pal, Billie Dawn, played by Mary Jane Hansen to play let’s make a deal. Brock seeks favors from his Senator Norval Hedges. Players-to-be in the real life drama of White Plains may wish to take notes.
Love Those Mild-Mannered Reporters
Bunce describes Paul Verral, his character, the investigative reporter, as “more the sort of altruistic reporter. New Republic’s credo, as it still is published today has always been neither left or right, but to consistently upset the status quo. The magazine has always felt democracy works best when you’re trying to upset the status quo and question whatever’s going, whoever is in power.”
I asked how the sophisticated reporter works with Mary Jane Hansen’s character, the platinum blonde bombshell in the play: “We play really well together. We’ve done a number of plays cast opposite each other in everything from a murder mystery in Shakespeare’s theatre to an Agatha Christie mystery. We’re very comfortable rehearsing together and working off of each other and trying to find the comedy in scenes.”
“It’s really nice this year playing Born Yesterday because we are so familiar with the material. The basic understanding of the characters and what’s going on in the scenes we had worked out last year. This year, we are developing subtleties, and some more going on relationship-wise that we could not get to last year. We have a good under standing of how audiences react to it and what plays well for comedy and how to play the comedy of the piece.”
Buxom Blonde Bombshell Speaks.
Mary Jane Hansen who plays Billie was an intern with NYSTI while she attended Russell Sage College in the Albany area five years ago. When she graduated, she went to work for NYSTI and “has been there ever since.” She started doing small roles and then got the opportunity to do two great leads, Miranda in The Tempest and Susie in Wait Until Dark.
“I’d like to say first of all that Born Yesterday is a lot of fun,” she says in her dulcet tones. “It’s great to look at, and it’s got some of the best dialogue. I love the 1940s (fashion) style, (she has six costume changes, 4 in the first act) as I think a lot of people do. It’s great to see people dressed like that again.
One of the best things you get so much from the show. You’re looking at a veritable fashion show, and it’s a perfect play for this time of year, election time, because it reminds people as they head out to vote what’s really important. How important it is to protect the democratic structure of our country, and how easily it can be abused if we turn our backs on it.”
Out of Today's Headlines.
We asked what the appeal of the classic play to Mr. and Mrs. White Plains in 2004: “It’s incredibly relevant,” Bunce said, “Especially this year, it’s basically all about politics to a great degree. It’s the politics of government contracts, the politics of how things get done, sort of insider wheeling and dealing in Washington. Each side gets accused of all different things, but it’s basically the same issues.”
Bunce feels the romance is the centerpiece of the play, but it depends on the audience. “We’ve done it for a lot of high school audiences in Troy, but the nice thing is the kids end up cheering and rooting for Billie Dawn and Paul to get together. When they finally do, the kids will cheer and clap, instead of being just cynical teenagers.”
The Thrill of Caring.
Bunce describes his character development as revolving around the platinum blonde: “What he (Paul) discovers, is how much he cares about Billie. Because of that it (his investigation of Brock), becomes much more of a personal issue.”
“ He’s heard rumors about why Brock is there, trying to profiteer off the spoils of World War II. He’s trying to do investigative reporting, and does not expect to get personally involved because of Billie. But, when the romance develops between him and Billie, it becomes entirely different. It becomes a personal goal to save Billie and if that means getting her away from Brock, or taking Brock down, in order to get her out of the relationship, it becomes much more a matter of that, instead of just the altruistic, I will get to the bottom of it as an investigative reporter.”
Hansen plays Billie “rough.”
"She’s rough. She’s seen a lot. She doesn’t quite know what to make of everything in her life, but she’s been around. She falls in love, and it’s probably the first time it’s happened to her,” Ms. Hansen described her characterization of Billie."
I asked how she makes the character change. (The reporter is hired by Harry Brock to teach Billie the social graces of Washington.)
Reporter Meets Match. David Bunce, left as New Republic Reporter Paul Verrall with the Blonde Bombshell herself -- Jean Harlow look-alike, Mary Jane Hansen as Billie Dawn. Photo Capture from White Plains Performing Arts Center.
“I think the love might be the thing that inspires her to learn (social graces). It’s a gradual process, it’s not like she comes out as a brilliant social philosopher. But, she does know a couple of things, and a couple of things click in her head. It takes a knocking around – it is a little bit of a shock – to make her put everything into perspective to really decide she is going to live her life differently. That she’s not going to sit around any more and make her own decisions.”
Gorilla vs. Clark Kent.
Bunce says, on balance it’s a comedy but “you’re dealing with some heavy duty stuff. The relationship between Billy and Brock (the trash king) is pretty intense and when push comes to shove, there’s definitely some shoving going on. Harry (Brock) certainly maintains his stature as the boss. He does that financially. He does that the way he treats people. And if it gets to the point where he feels he needs to get physical with anybody to maintain his position as boss, he’s not adverse to doing that either.”
All lovable in own way.
We asked who among the three was the most lovable character. Hansen said she felt the three were all lovable in their own way. “Even Harry, he’s sad, he’s pathetic. He’s got his own zest, his own attractive qualities. And, of course, Paul (Bunce) is just adorable. His desire to do the right thing, to change the world is an extremely admirable quality. And Billie, the way she looks at the world, that kind of naivete is really like she’s a child. And I love Ed Devry, too, (Harry’s lawyer).”
Ms. Hansen notes that Bunce’s character – the way he treats Billie – makes her fall in love with him “because it’s the way he treats her, in a way she’s never been treated before. Instead of the average person she comes in contact with who makes an immediate judge as to who she is, he actually makes an effort to talk to her with respect…to look at her like someone with potential.
I don’t think she’s used to that. She actually meets somebody who treats her like a human being, and she doesn’t know what to do with that. Her first reaction is to want to jump into bed with him, and he doesn’t do that, which I think makes her fall in love even more.”
THAT CONFIDENTIAL LOOK: What's There Not to Like About Those Reporter Guys? Mary Jane Hansen as Billie, sees something special in Paul Verrall. Photo Capture from White Plains Performing Arts Center.
Asked why Mr. and Mrs. White Plains should come on out and see BY, Hansen said, “If I think if there’s any doubt in their mind that we have power in this democratic structure, they should come out and see this play, because it will remind them just how important they are as a citizen. Another thing is if they want to see something with style, some fantastic dialogue, back-and-forth, very funny and an enduring piece of theatre.”
Intense Romantic Triangle.
Bunce says the Harry Brock part is written as “the old-fashioned dominant male.” Part of the contrast that Kanin works with is you’ve got the old-fashioned gorilla approach to being the guy that Harry is, and this much more intellectual, gentle type guy comes into Billie’s life on the other side, which I suppose leaves her with the choice of what she’s looking for.”
The first Tony Soprano.
Harry Brock, most likely would remind a 2004 theatre goer of the crude Tony Soprano, according to John Romeo, a 26 year veteran of NYSTI performances.
Romeo, a native of Albany just 15 minutes away from Troy, started with NYSTI as a technician, while acting outside of the NYSTI sphere. After two years as a technician he made known his acting aspirations, and he landed the role. “I was jobbed in as an actor for a couple of shows, then I came on staff as a technician because it was the only position available at the time. I thought the best thing to say was, I can do that, eventually they got the message I wanted to be an actor anyway.” His first role for them was in The Lark, playing Warwick who befriended Joan of Arc.
Harry is centerstage
“He’s the driving, negative force in the story. He’s definitely not a Sheridan Whiteside, you always get a sense (in The Man Who Came to Dinner), that Sheridan is not a bad guy, he’s just had his own way.
Harry is a bully. A pusher. I don’t think there’s that much of a good side to him. There’s reference he might have had people killed. He’s a glutton, and knows it and revels in it, and not a good person. There’s no revelation at the end that he realizes he’s done wrong.”
Mr. Romeo says Harry does not change much as the romance develops: “Harry in his blindness doesn’t see any problem with this other guy (Bunce). He wears glasses. Doesn’t have a lot of money. He’s into books, and surely Billie is never going to be attracted to anything like that. He’s that kind of self-centered, that he believes she would never think of being with this guy when she could be with Harry. He doesn’t see a lot of things happening.”
As the play unwinds, Romeo says, Harry just considers her infatuation and new intelligence is “kind of getting in the way and kind of a nuisance for him.”
Romeo explains, “You don’t see a lot of relationship between Harry and Billie before Paul Verral walks in. You don’t see what the condition of their relationship is. It’s already beginning to fall apart as they walk in, really. Paul walks into an advantageous situation. What you’re watching is the evolution of their relationship.”
Romeo’s Favorite Highlights.
Romeo’s favorite scenes are when the Senator and his wife come to visit Harry and Billie to close a deal, and the Senator realizes he has walked into what Romeo describes as “a totally classless boorish situation with this pig of a man and a totally socially inept person (Billie). It’s just funny to see how his wife and he (the Senator) react to Harry and Billie. They are just the most classless people they have ever run into, and here the Senator is forming a deal with this guy and is beholden to him to the tune $80,000. It’s a very funny scene.”
Romeo also likes Billie accerting that she’s a free person in the Second Act, where “you see the relationship really break down and see Harry try to use brute force and have his way.”
Romeo says Kanin’s script is great writing, one of the best written scripts he recalls doing in a long time. He says Harry starts out funny, and is funny, but is for real: “Harry becomes less funny as he sees the situation he is in start to fall apart. His true colors come out.
“I think audiences leave the theater happy for Billie that she’s a full-fledged human being, and can participate in her world. But, they scratch their heads a little bit and realize that in fifty years, not too much has changed in terms of government influence. This play was picked for a particular reason. The timing couldn’t be better this week for people to at least consider how business and government sleep together.”
“We’re really excited about coming down. This is a brand new place for us. We’ve had a great run in Queens (Theatre in the Park, last week), now we’re looking to explore White Plains and see how they take to us, too. We’re looking forward to it.”
NYSTI – How a Arts-In-Education program works.
Born Yesterday is a New York State Theater Institute production in its second season of touring. NYSTI is a theater company funded by New York State as an arts in education program, (in 1974), based in Troy, New York.
It consists of a troop of actors, directors, set designers, producers many of whom have been with NYSTI for years. NYSTI stages productions for schools and institutions around the state with set productions, some original, some revivals, and seeks new works that compliment high school and elementary curriculum needs.
Bunce, a native of Manchester, Connecticut, describes NYSTI as a core acting company and it free-lances people in beyond that:
“Ed Lange, Associate Artistic Director, and Director of Friday’s Born Yesterday was an acting teacher of mine in college when I was younger. I ended up there because of him.”
Develops Shows Unique in Perspective. Revives Classics.
“We do a five-or-six show season, usually two shows for elementary school, two shows for middle school, and two shows for high school, at 10 A.M. mornings, and public shows on the weekend. We will on occasion travel around New York State a bit, and quite a bit of international exchange with other countries. Last year we had a theatre group from Sweden to do a show at our theatre. We’re scheduled to take Born Yesterday in the fall to Sweden.”
Asked how NYSTI selected its shows, Bunce said, “We ask teachers for input about what they would like to see, what classic literature they’re dealing with. We try and fit some shows to the curriculum, if they’re studying classic literature like Shakespeare, Dickens, and we have a long tradition of fostering new shows. We will commission works based on children’s works, things of that nature, and beyond that just trying to pick works built to our public audience.”
Bunce says he gets parts depending on the directors used. He says that if NYSTI commissions a new director to do a show, he will usually audition, if it’s a director who knows him and other in NYSTI’s stable of stars, actors are often assigned.: “They know our type,that sort of thing. We have a couple of directors inhouse and job in a lot of directors.”
Born Yesterday is born again Friday evening at 8 at WPPAC inaugurating the second White Plains Performing Arts Center season, . Tickets are $30-$42.50 and runs through November 7 The WPPAC box office may be reached at 1-888-977-2250.