"I hire and fire geniuses every day," growls Harry Brock, the protagonist in Garson Kanin's 1946 comedy "Born Yesterday." And later: "If you ain't with me, you're against me." Considering that "Born Yesterday" is set in Washington, D.C., that last statement has an eerily contemporary ring.
Oklahoma City Theatre Company opens its 10th season with "Born Yesterday," directed by Rosemary Orwig-Rodgers. In a political season where "change" is the latest buzzword, the change agents at OCTC present their take on machinations in our nation's capital.
Brock owns a chain of junkyards and is worth more than a million, but probably not as much as $50 million. And these are 1946 dollars. Anyway, he claims he doesn't know how much he is worth. (What's he look like? An accountant?)
Brock is not a completely legitimate businessman. He's not above having somebody bumped off or engaging in something more petty "? bribing a senator, for instance.
He and his entourage have come to Washington to complete some shady deal, the exact nature of which is never revealed; "cartel" is mentioned. With him is his girlfriend, Billie Dawn, a former chorus girl who had five lines in "Anything Goes." She is the type of girl who says "shew-uh" for sure and "tawk" for talk.
Things go well until Brock hires Paul Verrall, an idealistic, young writer for The New Republic, to smarten Billie up so she won't be such an embarrassment to Brock in Washington social circles. Before long, Verrall has Billie reading books, and you know what happens when chorus girls start reading books.
OCTC can be a frustrating theater company, but one thing it puts onstage consistently is good acting. Mark Loftis might not be the first actor to come to mind when casting Brock, but in this production, he seizes the part like a pit bull. He seems to be channeling his inner Jackie Gleason. When Loftis bellows "Billie!," you can hear Gleason yelling "Alice!" It's a perfectly fine interpretation of the role.
Erin Hicks-Cheek, always a reliable actor, gets the right balance between Billie the ditz and Billie who may not be as dumb as you think she is, thank you very much. Christopher Curtis grows on you as Brock's besotted lawyer, Ed Devery. Rick Cheek is effective as Paul Verrall. Sen. Norval Hedges is played by Darryl Snow, who bears a disturbing resemblance to Dick Cheney.
OCTC productions often have the look of a theater company on a budget. This production of "Born Yesterday" lacks the attention to detail that separates a top-notch show from a pretty good one. The costumes are not quite authentic 1946, and the set design is a little too improvised. These details are amplified in the intimate CitySpace theater. It does not help that the production is garishly overlit to within an inch of its life.