The character of Eddie Brock is that of an eel, who slithers into Washington, all ready to snatch up his next lucrative deal. Eddie is into junk, as in a junkyard, of which he is king. He owns 500 yards already, but now has his hungry eyes set upon claiming even more. Which is what brings him to our nation’s capital. The period is the late 1940s. The war is over and Eddie has cast his gaze across the Atlantic at the ruins of Europe and all of its scrap steel. He has already secured a senator in his pocket and with his aid all Eddie wants is for government to step aside and let him do what he does best in this world, make more money.
Following along in Eddie’s wake is first his shifty lawyer, who facilitates his dealings and Billie Dawn, Eddie’s platinum blonde showgirl-friend. Billie her baby doll voice and Jersey accent has become an impediment to Eddie’s ambitions. She lacks the social graces and intellectual acumen that Eddie needs, if she is going to circulate with him in capital high society. Enter a reporter, from the New Republic yet, who interviews Eddie. Eddie takes a shine to the reporter and enlists his help as a tutor for Billie.
The preceding paragraphs summarize the first act of “Born Yesterday”, the final play on the main stage at The Rep for this season. This comedy has enjoyed many showings over the years, in both theater and on the screen. After seeing this show, it is obvious that this particular revival is a reaction to Donald Trump.
The play’s titled is derived from the phrase, “I wasn’t born yesterday.” In its second act, Billie attains an awakening and Eddie learns to rue his wicked ways. Not the least because he and his crooked lawyer have signed over many of his junkyards into Billie’s name in a tax scam. Also, Billie and the reporter/tutor have naturally fallen in love together.
The show is anachronistic is many ways. The prices are for one. Eddie brags about the exorbitant cost of his Capital Hill penthouse ($250 per night), which seems ridiculously cheap by today’s standards, unless of course you happen to be the head of the EPA. More glaringly out of sync with modern sensibilities and the #MeToo era is Eddie’s rude and often harsh treatment of Billie. But one thing that “Born Yesterday” does get right is its depiction of the corruption and graft that powerful and entitled men still practice to this day.
Last night’s performance was near the end of this play’s run and the house was less than full. Leavening the crowd last night were many students, both from local high schools and foreign exchange students from Webster. Two exchange students were seated behind us and it was interesting listening to them at intermission and after the show. Together they were trying to puzzle out this now seventy years old political satire and what it means today.