StageStruck: Four Smart Girls

Two current comedies focus on women’s interactions, one revolving around prickly family connections, the other an anarchic interface with a man’s world. In Pittsfield, a theater dedicated to supporting women’s causes presents a seriocomic dissection of sibling dynamics. In Springfield, it’s a story of political corruption involving an archetypal but atypical dumb blonde.

Born Yesterday, playing this weekend at Springfield College, is perhaps best known for its place in Broadway folklore—the ultimate star-is-born fantasy come true. Garson Kanin’s 1946 play was in out-of-town tryouts when the star, Jean Arthur, fell ill and was replaced by a little-known ingenue, Judy Holliday. She was an overnight sensation, went on to win an Oscar and a Golden Globe in the movie version of the play, and remained a star of stage and screen until her untimely death at 43.

Billie Dawn, the character that launched Holliday’s career, is a classic ditzy blonde, a sexy bauble plucked from the chorus line by Harry Brock, a classic cigar-chomping capitalist boor. The tycoon, a Daddy Warbucks who amassed a fortune selling junk to the government during WWII, brings his mistress with him to Washington, D.C., where he intends to buy a senator to further his entrepreneurial schemes. Embarrassed by her lack of social finesse, he hires Paul Verrall, a classic mild-mannered liberal intellectual, to throw some education and class into her.

The play, directed here by Martin Shell, charts Billie’s passage from airhead to egghead as her eyes are opened to the pleasures of learning and to the crooked dealings of her abusive squire. Much of the comedy comes from malapropisms arising from half-digested lessons, as when she misquotes Abe Lincoln: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhibit it.” And much of the punch comes from the plus-ca-change parallels between Beltway politics then and now.

Born Yesterday runs Nov. 10-12 at 8, 13 at 2, Fuller Arts Center, Wilbraham Ave., Springfield College, $2-5 at the door.www.

The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls is the fall production of WAM Theatre, a women-led company with a dual mission: to foreground the work of women artists and to champion organizations that serve women and girls. This production’s beneficiary of a portion of the ticket sales is the Berkshire United Way Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative.

The title refers to the three Fine sisters, Jojo, Jayne and Jelly, estranged but now thrown together by their father’s death to sort through family heirlooms and childhood memories. Jojo is a university professor with a fixation on Brecht; Jayne a closeted bisexual “corporate shark” with an inability (presumably metaphorical) to breathe freely; and Jelly a visual artist with a passion for boxes.

The Canadian play, part comic romp and part poignant exploration of kinship rituals, was written collaboratively by five women. This production, directed by Canadian transplant Kristen van Ginhoven, marks a first-time connection for WAM Theatre with Pittsfield’s Barrington Stage Company.”

The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls plays Fri.-Sun. through Nov. 20 at BSC’s Stage 2, 36 Linden St., Pittsfield. 800-838-3006 or for tickets and info.


Author: Chris Rohmann

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