After retiring from a 32-year career in the Foreign Service, Dell Pendergrast decided to return to a long-lost passion from his youth — acting.
"I studied theater at Northwestern University many years ago, but then I went into the Foreign Service and I never really had much opportunity to pursue it again," said Pendergrast, who lives in McLean.
This summer, Pendergrast landed the role of Congressman Hedges in the Great Falls Players production of "Born Yesterday." The 12-person cast has been rehearsing since August, and the show will open at the McLean Community Center's Alden Theatre on Oct. 20.
"It's been a delight to be back on stage," said Pendergrast. "Of course I'm working with people who have a lot more experience than I do — it's a wonderful director and a wonderful cast."
Pendergrast said his years of public speaking in the Foreign Service have negated any feelings of stage fright.
"I just want to measure up to my fellow cast mates," he said.
The show is being directed by Jerry Bonnes who has been directing plays for the Great Falls Players for 20 years. Bonnes initially worked with lighting and sound, but naturally fell into directing over the years.
"I like the creativity that it [directing] affords," said Bonnes. "Every play has its own unique challenges."
"BORN YESTERDAY" was originally written as a play by Garson Kanin in 1946. In 1950 it was adapted into a film starring Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford and William Holden. A re-make was done in 1993 starring Melanie Griffith, John Goodman and Don Johnson. "Born Yesterday" tells the story of Harry Brock, a corrupt tycoon who travels to Washington, D.C. to buy out a congressman. Brock brings Billie Dawn, his ditsy, ex-chorus girl mistress, and hires journalist Paul Verrall to educate her and improve her social graces during their stay.
For their stage production, the Great Falls Players made a few updates to the script. Great Falls board member and "Born Yesterday" stage manager Mike Scott worked with Bonnes to make the adjustments, but Bonnes said it was a relatively easy task as the plot tackles themes that are still relevant today.
"In some ways this story is timeless," said Bonnes. "It's about corruption in Congress and greed, and it has love interests, so it has so many things that even 60 years later have the same impact."
Bonnes said that Scott did most of the updates which primarily involved updating 1940s vernacular to modern day slang. The two-act show takes place in the Willard Hotel setting poised against the backdrop of Washington, D.C. Pendergrast said that he has enjoyed getting into the character of a congressman.
"The last scene is really powerful because the deck of cards falls on Harry and the congressman, so it's a powerful message," said Pendergrast. "I think it's a very contemporary play that has something to say to today's audience."
ACCORDING to Great Falls Players board member Terry Yates, the play was partially chosen for its political themes.
"We liked the show because it's a comedy for adults, but it also seemed appropriate for this particular time because it opens right before Election Day," said Yates, who is producing the show. "It's about Washington and it's about politics … it's very timely right now with the election coming up and politics on everyone's mind."
Yates has lived in Great Falls for 26 years and has been working with the Great Falls Players for 15. She went to see a Great Falls Players production and saw a notice asking for volunteers.
"I thought, I'd like to do something, and somehow I just got started," said Yates.
She said the experience has been rewarding because of the friendships she has formed.
"You meet the nicest people doing this," said Yates. "It's a big time commitment, but we wouldn't do it if it wasn't fun."