PYGMALION, the beautiful play by George Bernard Shaw, is currently performing at the Pasadena Playhouse. PYGMALION is the original work that inspired a musical and a film you may be well acquainted with – “My Fair Lady.”
The play is set in London, England, in 1912. Phonetics professor Henry Higgins bets that after he is done transforming flower girl Eliza Doolittle, her speech and behavior will allow her to pass for a duchess at an ambassador’s party. Along with Colonel Pickering, he works on Eliza’s dialectal English until she sounds like the most refined of ladies. The problem is, once she looks and acts like a lady, what is to become of her?
At the Playhouse, Professor Higgins is excellently played by Bruce Turk, Col. Pickering by Stan Egi, and Eliza Doolittle by Paige Lindsey White. Ellen Crawford is Mrs. Pearce, the Eynsford-Hills are played by Lynn Milgrim, Carolyn Ratteray and Alex Knox, Mary Anne McGarry is Mrs. Higgins, and Time Winters is Alfred P. Doolittle. The cast is complete with Sarah Hollis, Tom Shelton and Greg Watanabe. The director is Jessica Kubzansky.
They are fantastic in the delivery of this story that, between much wit and humor, makes serious commentary about class differences, women’s independence, sexual politics, and how language can define a person in front of others.
The stage and lighting at the Playhouse are elaborate, with scenes that change smoothly from the portico of St. Paul’s Church to Higgins’s laboratory and to Mrs. Higgins’s drawing room. The costumes are elegant and attractive, and some of them quite similar to those seen in “My Fair Lady.”
PYGMALION is a play you’ll wish you could memorize, as the author drops line after line of fabulous thought. Consider, for example, the following quotes:
“What is life but a series of inspired follies? The difficulty is to find them to do. Never lose a chance: it doesn’t come every day.”
“Happy is the man who can make a living by his hobby.”
“German and Spanish are accessible to foreigners: English is not accessible even to Englishmen.”
Delivering smart quotes properly, of course, is an art. And the cast at the Playhouse does it well. While this play is over two hours long (with a 15-minute intermission) the time goes by fast because it is truly entertaining. The language is clear, although the Doolittle’s East End of London accent is at times tricky, but not enough to interrupt the sense of it all.
Be prepared for a different end to the story than the one you know from “My Fair Lady.” The film has a resolution meant to satisfy romantic expectations, but the play does not. However, the ending given to this production at the Playhouse is also different from the ending Shaw gave to the play!
PYGMALION at the Playhouse is great. You are bound to leave happy and perhaps even encouraged to read Shaw’s work. The play will run through April 12. Tickets are priced $30 to $75, available at http://www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org or by calling (626) 356-7529.
The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue in Pasadena 91101.
Photo: (L-R) Alex Knox, Carolyn Ratteray, Lynn Milgrim, Paige Lindsey White, Bruce Turk, Stan Egi, Sarah Hollis, Mary Anne McGarry. Photo Credit: Jim Cox