by Richard Hinojosa · August 21, 2015
Fans of Roald Dahl will undoubtedly be intrigued by this astonishing true story set in the famous author’s early life during WWII. After spending some time as a fighter pilot, Dahl was injured and made inactive. He was sent to the British Embassy in Washington DC where he met Clare Boothe Luce, a Congresswoman from Connecticut, and they began a brief, torrid affair. Yesterday was Beautiful cleverly imagines what those private, steamy nights may have been like.
The play opens with Major Harold Balfour sitting at the bedside of an injured Dahl describing his new assignment. Dahl is reluctant at first, not wanting to spend the rest of the war behind a desk, but when he meets Luce his attitude changes. She is a powerful woman in DC and is married to an influential publisher. She immediately takes a liking to the young Dahl (she is 13 years his senior) and propositions him for a little hanky panky. This begins an affair that would lead to a little heartbreak and a lot of wisdom.
Playwrights Andy Boyd and Blythe Roberson have a good ear for dialogue. The exchanges between Dahl and Luce are smart and sharply written. Luce was notorious for her biting wit and that comes across clearly in her dialogue. Dahl, on the other hand, comes across as boyish and naïve. We are given only hints of his celebrated imagination. The scenes with Dahl and Major Balfour are quite funny and serve the play well. The story is light on plot and lacks a significant conflict and ending, however it would seem that the playwrights’ goal was to make the audience a fly on the wall during this now infamous affair and in that, they do an excellent job.
The production is simple but fairly well executed. There are many transitions between scenes that use mostly light movement to indicate scene changes. The production could benefit from more music being played during these transitions as many scenes end with awkward silences and/or actors moving before the lights change. Directors Andy Boyd and Yonit Friedman create an even pace and style for the production, however they may consider using real props for any future productions. The props for this production are all hand-made out of construction paper and this is in stark contrast to the real furniture and costumes and has the unfortunate result of making the production appear shoddy. (Well, ok, the paper ice cream cones are pretty cute).
For a realistic play, the casting is a little odd. Major Balfour is played by a young woman and there doesn’t seem to be an age difference between Dahl and Luce. Still, the cast is a talented group. Luke Rose plays Dahl with a great deal of charm. He gives a sentimental Dahl who has yet to discover his dark humor. Jacqui Rossi is a hilarious Major Balfour. She pours all of her energy into this wacky British officer and gets a lot of laughs for her effort. Ava Langford really stands out as Luce. She has a very strong stage presence and fully embodies this formidable woman. She infuses vitality into every scene she’s in.
I enjoyed the banter in Yesterday Was Beautiful. It was fascinating to hear shrewd dialogue created for these personal moments in these two influential characters’ lives. I think fans of Dahl or Luce will be delighted to catch this one.