Michael McGrath, David Furr, and Leslie Kritzer
in Born Yesterday
(© Kathleen A. Fahle)
Michael McGrath, David Furr, and Leslie Kritzer
in Born Yesterday
(© Kathleen A. Fahle)
Wouldn't it be swell if, political skulduggery were to become a thing of the past? Highly unlikely, given human nature. Plus, the absence of chicanery in Washington might render obsolete Born Yesterday, Garson Kanin's slyly seditious and still incisive 1946 satire about backroom wheeling and dealing now at the Cape Playhouse under Pamela Hunt's snappy direction.

And if that happened, we might not have the thrill of watching a crack performer like Leslie Kritzer tackle the so-dumb-she's-brilliant role of Billie Dawn. She puts her own stamp on the part -- originated by the great Judy Holliday -- complete with the jello-on-springs walk of a chorine turned arm candy (Lisa Zinni's form-hugging costumes yield maximum jiggle) and a voice that's part kewpie doll, and part parrot squawk.

Even before Billie acquires some "kulcha" -- under the tutelage of investigative journalist Paul Verrall (the intelligently laid-back David Furr, who resists the temptation to play romantic crusader) -- we can see she's plenty smart. Just watch her shoot her ruffled cuffs to thrash her loutish paramour, Harry Brock (Michael McGrath), at gin rummy. Brock may inspire universal fear and trembling with his readiness to go for the jugular, but clearly this Billie can hold her own -- even if her arithmetical calculations require fingers. And what McGrath lacks in physical stature, he more than makes up in sheer meanness. When McGrath gets that edge of threat in his voice, you'll feel it viscerally.

Ross Bickell manages to make Brock's aiding-and-abetting attorney, the bibulous Ed Devery, an equal partner in this production. Rather than playing Devery's habitual drunkenness for cheap humor (alcoholism no longer being the laugh riot it might have seemed at mid-century), Bickell gives us a methodical, intelligent man who just happens to be having a hard time living with the ethical choices he has made.

As Senator Norval Hedges, the politician that Brock and Devery plan to put in their collective pocket, Brad Bellamy makes a fine buffoon, and his real-life wife Suzanna Hay, playing Hedge's genteel Southern spouse (as well as the opinionated Irish maid), pretty much steals every scene she's in. Indeed, Hunt's staging of Mrs. Hedge's unsettling encounters with Brock constitute a shorthand manual in anti-etiquette.

Still, no matter who's appalling whom, it's hard to keep your eyes off that pouty, shopworn showgirl scheming on the couch, storming up the stairs, and red-lining -- at Verrall's suggestion -- the newspaper items that are over her head. (That would be all of page one.) Still, we can't help cheering her on as she wises up and becomes the raucous, righteous, never fully proper voice of the people.