“A little learning is a dangerous thing.”

So says attorney Ed Devery (Byrd Bonner) in Classic Theater’s stellar staging of “Born Yesterday.”

Devery has witnessed it firsthand. In the play, his client, thuggish millionaire Harry Brock (the pitch-perfect Greg Hinojosa) is concerned that his unrefined girlfriend Billie Dawn (Hayley Burnside) will somehow undermine his efforts to buy influence in Washington, D.C.


Devery suggests that he hire someone to educate Billie, and Harry turns to Paul Verrall (well-drawn by Nick Lawson), a reporter. Paul agrees, and soon, Billie finds that she enjoys learning. She also becomes much more aware of what her beau is up to, and that makes her dangerous, indeed.

The show, directed with typical astuteness by Matthew Byron Cassi, is every bit as funny and smart as it should be.

Every actor is marvelous, but the show belongs to Burnside. She delivers a comedic gem of a performance. One example: In the first act, Billie and Harry plan gin rummy. Most of the scene plays out in sounds and gestures rather than dialogue. Burnside makes the most of that: Opening her eyes wide as she gleefully snatches up cards that he has discarded, plainly reveling in her victory, eventually shimmying in her seat as she hums “Anything Goes.”

She’s marvelous in the scene, and, as in the rest of the show, she is well-matched by Hinojosa, who does a great slow burn throughout the scene.

The whole show is a treat, closing out Classic’s current season on a high note.

“Born Yesterday” can be seen at 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at Classic Theatre, 1924 Fredericksburg Road. Tickets range from $10 to $25. Call 210-589-8450 for reservations or visit to buy tickets online.

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Read the review in The San Antonio Express-News

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Born Yesterday: Knowledge is Power

by Jenni Morin

In the 70 years since Born Yesterday was penned by Garson Kanin, the nature of the government seems to have changed very little as corrupt officials and crooked businessmen sticking their fingers in politics continue to have more say than the people. With great attention to detail and a superb cast, The Classic Theatre of San Antonio proves Born Yesterday is just as relevant as it was in 1946.

Greg Hinojosa and Hayley Burnside in 
The Classic Theatre's Born Yesterday.

When nefarious businessman Harry Brock comes to Washington, D.C. to bribe Senator Norval Hedges to pass legislation for his profit, his lawyer Ed Devery points out that his unrefined and flighty girlfriend, Billie Dawn, may become a liability in his business dealings. Enlisting the services of Journalist Paul Verrall to smarten her up, Brock is blind to their growing feelings and how Billie's new knowledge could backfire and put their whole arrangement in jeopardy.

At its core, Born Yesterday is a power struggle between the little guy (or lady), the big guy, and government, with truth and knowledge being the key to power. No matter how much Brock beats Billie, either emotionally or physically, she overcomes her subservience to get the better hand. A great analogy for the play manifests in the scene where she continually beats in him in Gin rummy after he taught her to play. The current political climate certainly adds to the script’s appeal as Brock eerily mirrors the fast-talking, fake-looking, catchphrase-spouting caricature dominating the 2016 primary election. In a sense, Verrall issues a call to action for the people to educate themselves in order to make an informed decision, especially when they feel their elected officials are not justly representing their constituents. By the end, Born Yesterday is as much about female empowerment as it is about democracy as Billie literally gets some sense knocked into her and is able to leverage her power to right wrongs and get what she wants and deserves. 

Matthew Byron Cassi directs a compelling production chock full of significant, yet often silent, moments that simultaneously give the characters depth and motivation. The set design by Karen Arredondo-Starr stayed faithful to the period with a dark marble façade adorned with art deco architectural details and accented by postmodern furnishing and Kendall Davila’s stunning geometric floor artwork. Always acutely aware of the details, the Classic’s impeccably decorated set was complimented by Diane Malone’s period-appropriate head-to-toe costuming. Rick Malone’s sound design set the mood with Victrola-era harmonies about the nostalgia of romance and the lighting design by Steven Starr set the scene.  

As Harry Brock, Greg Hinojosa is a charismatic womanizer who overcompensates and is quick to anger, but still able to draw sympathy – quite an acting feat. Hayley Burnside gives Billie Dawn life with an unending range or facial expressions and ability to engage an audience throughout an elongated, yet revealing, game of gin. Nick Lawson harnesses the passion and righteousness of Paul Verrall while mastering physical comedy and eloquent speeches. Byrd Bonner admirably portrays the dishonest lawyer with his knack for the language and cadence of period dramas, albeit somewhat forced at times. Chuck Wigginton’s Senator Norvall Hedges makes an accurate impression as a bribeable pushover with his haughty wife played spot-on by Alexandra Montgomery. Gabriel Sanchez portrays a great henchman as Eddie Brock. The hotel staff made up of Catie Carlisle, Ross Avant, Alejandro Pesina, and Bekka Broyles do their best work in their physicality and telling glances. Altogether, the well-rounded cast offers a natural, even, and very entertaining performance.

The technical orchestration and organic acting provided a beautiful pace, allowing The Classic’s production of Born Yesterday to be impactful, engaging, and insightful. Born Yesterday urges the so-called weak and powerless to channel knowledge into a productive and liberating movement to pursue what and who they want to be.

Born Yesterday will run at The Classic Theatre through May 22, 2016 with performances at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. on Sunday. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit


originally published:


February 24, 2016

Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull (1896) is considered transformative in terms of theatrical conventions. With  virtually no plot and little action, it >explores such themes as unrequited love or crushed ambitions through characters that are self-absorbed, yet deeply intertwined. Chekhov called it a comedy, but its tragic undercurrents leave little room for humor. Perhaps the biggest challenge to actors is conveying those unspoken subtexts. Convincingly.

That’s not an issue for The Classic Theatre, which has mounted an insightful, sublimely nuanced production of the piece. Director Allan S. Ross assembled a solid, well-meshed cast that works with the cohesion of a repertory ensemble. The Seagull is set in a lakeside 

Russian estate owned by ailing, 
retired statesman Peter Sorin (a sympathetic Michael Duggin), who hosts a group of people including his sister Irina (Kelly Hilliard Roush), a famous, mature actress who is vain, narcissistic and utterly insensitive. In a role that invites hamming, Ms. Roush gives a richly layered performance that exposes the fear of aging that threatens her personal appeal and career, and seems to drive her hateful actions and words.
Gifted Michael Holley is affecting as her son Constantine, the struggling, moody playwright who yearns for his mother’s approval and dreams of creating a new means of theatrical expression, despite others finding his work incomprehensible. He pines for Nina (the excellent Julya Jara), a neighbor and aspiring young actress who is smitten with Boris (talented newcomer Jonathan Pollei), the famous writer who is Irina's lover and ultimately is shown to be a heartless cad.
Masha (well drawn as a hurt but determined survivor by Chelsea Dyan Steele), is the brooding, black-clad daughter of estate-keepers Ilya (made doltish by Joe De Mott) and Paulina (an infinitely loving and patient Catherine Babbitt) who is desperately in love with Constantine. She, in turn, is adored by the schoolteacher, Simon (played as earnest and painfully sad by John D. Boyd). The remaining unrequited love is that of Paulina for Peter's kindly physician, Dr. Dorn (given well-considered dimension by Andrew Thornton), a ladies' man and former lover of Irina.
Mr. Ross elicits special focus on the characters’ interactions. In some productions they listen halfheartedly even when they disclose too much of themselves to each other. Here, they usually have attentive connections, if only to keep track of elusive loves or objects of jealousy. If their dreams or passions are unfulfilled, most of them manage to adapt and move on to live Thoreau’s lives of “quiet desperation.”
The title is derived from Constantine’s shooting a seagull for no apparent reason and bringing it back as a gift to Nina. Shocked and disturbed by the deed, she eventually believes it to be a metaphor for her life.
There are autobiographical elements in the piece: Chekhov was a known skirt-chaser who finally married at 41 and had his own experience with 
his or others’ one-sided love affairs. The work habits of the two writers also suggest some of his own. Boris is a compulsive note-taker who cannot 
stop thinking about his next project and harbors a secret concern about being unmasked as a charlatan. Constantine is fiercely self-critical and insecure, so much so that when he achieves success (as we learn in the 
last act) much of his writing is done under a pseudonym. His final tragedy is, alas, inevitable.
The audience sits on two sides of the spare, attractive set by Ric Slocum, which features minimal furniture on the central playing space, flanked at either end by ghostly white birch trees and floating picture frames. Lighting by Pedro Ramirez is effectively done, as is the Rick Malone soundscape of birdsong and rain, classic piano or balalaika music and even a distant Russian men’s chorus.
And then, there are the costumes: magnificent, intricately detailed period-accurate dresses, coats, menswear, hats and accessories designed by the inimitable Diane Malone. The theater’s intimate setting allows a close vantagepoint to see and appreciate the buttons, pleats, ruffles and tailoring.
In every respect, it’s an absorbing, beautifully crafted version of a time-honored masterwork.
Diane Windeler

originally published:


by Andrew Anderson

A strong cast and fine direction by Allan Ross served up an almost pitch perfect production of Anton Chekhov's first and most autobiographical play, The Seagull.


Chekhov described the play as a comedy. He wrote "There are three women's parts, six men's, four acts, landscapes (view over a lake); a great deal of conversation about literature, little action, tons of love."


While most productions of Chekhov tend to lean towards tragedy and heavy drama, Allan Ross's interpretation probably cleaves much closer to Chekhov's original concept.


In a tapestry of fine performances, Kelly Hilliard Roush was outstanding as the scheming and self-centered actress Irina. I imagine her to be exactly what Chekhov had in mind when he wrote the part. She is funny, vivacious and totally captivating in the role.


Jonathan Pollei gave an equally bravura performance in his role as Trigorin, while Catherine Babbitt and Andrew Thornton (as Paulina and Yevgeny Dorn) gave very serviceable performances in roles that did not make many demands on their considerable talents.


Michael Holley delivered a very sensitive and thoughtful interpretation of the frustrated lover and writer Consantine, while the rest of the cast also delivered assured performances.


As Nina, Julya Jara gave a very amusing and appropriately over-the-top rendition of the play within a play in act one. The rest of her performance was well balanced until act four, when I felt she was just a little too frenetically dramatic. While this might be well within the tradition of Chekhov productions, and could be considered fine acting in that context, I felt it could have been toned down a little or, alternatively, leaned more towards melodrama. However, this is a minor reservation about a production that deserves to be seen and enjoyed.