With 'Born Yesterday,' the Vagabonds deliver a sparkling show

April 15, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Certain presidential administrations seem more susceptible than others to the political satire of Garson Kanin's "Born Yesterday." At the Vagabonds, director Steve Goldklang tries to increase the comedy's timeliness by piping in the song, "A Little Girl from Little Rock" (from "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes"), before the play begins.

But it doesn't really matter whether the play's wheeler-dealer, Harry Brock, is attempting to swindle a Republican or a Democratic administration. "Born Yesterday" is at least as much about the power of an education as it is about the power of corruption.

The title refers to Brock's mistress, ex-chorus girl Billie Dawn. Ever since Judy Holliday created the role on Broadway, the success of any production has rested primarily on the shoulders of her successors.

At the Vagabonds, Darlene Deardorff is an adorable delight in the role. When the play begins, she's as timid as a bird, and her voice sounds as high and flighty as one. Although Deardorff is tall, her character seems small; she moves with a flirty strut but seems ready to flinch at any time.

However, by the end of the second act, when Billie bellows at Brock, "You're just not couth!," the line isn't merely funny on its own terms, it's funny because Deardorff makes it clear that this is the preamble to Billie's declaration of independence.

As bullying Brock, Ken Sabel has a less satisfying role; unlike Billie, Brock doesn't learn or grow. A tycoon who made a fortune in junk decades before the word referred to bonds, Brock doesn't understand the ways of Washington, and he certainly doesn't understand women. At the final curtain, a bewildered Brock is the perfect foil for the new, wised-up Billie.

Sabel captures Brock's gruff look and mannerisms, and his affection for Billie rings true. His chief shortcoming is that, even for a character described as a man who's "always lived at the top of his voice," he explodes too fast and easily, leaving him little room for the volcanic explosions that come later on.

Rick Clark makes his character -- the idealistic reporter Brock hires to give Billie some education -- a bit too goofy and nerdy to be believable as Billie's eventual love interest. And, as a lawyer who's been on Brock's payroll since he drowned a promising career in alcohol, Bill Bossemeyer needs to appear more washed-up and defeated.

But all in all, this production is almost as sparkling as its luxuriously appointed hotel-room set, designed by Allan Nichols and Bob Jones. Not only does this beautiful set do the Vagabonds' renovated facility proud, but it's grand enough for the Rockefellers -- or maybe even the Clintons.

"Born Yesterday"

Where: Vagabond Players, 806 S. Broadway

When: 8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays. Through May 1

Tickets: $9 and $10

Call: (410) 563-9135

***

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