Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Pygmalion"

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entire contents copyright 1997 by Larry Stark


"Pygmalion"

by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by Polly Hogan

Set Design by Brynna Bloomfield
Lighting Design by Brian Orter
Costume Design by Andrew Polezak
Stage Manager Beth Cuthbertson

Clara Eynsford Hill..........................................Celeste McClain
Mrs. Eynsford Hill.................................................Mary Klug
Freddy Eynsford Hill............................................Neil McGarry
Bystander.........................................................Gary Kirby
Alfred Doolittle/ Bystander.................................Michael Bradshaw
Eliza Doolittle..............................................Susan McConnell
Colonel Pickering...............................................Ron Ritchell
Henry Higgins.............................................Robert J. Bouffier
Mrs. Pierce......................................................Alice Duffy
Mrs. Higgins.....................................................Eve Johnson
Parlor Maid.....................................................Susan Putnam
Dancers.............................Judy Erickson, Lily Kruskal, Laura Dyer


The women in George Bernard Shaw's plays seem to get more solid, forthright, independent and honest year by year. In the Lyric Stage production of "Pygmalion" his housekeeper, his mother and his star pupil all gang up on poor Henry Higgins and pillory him for a wilfully indifferent, petulent child --- and as played by Robert J. Bouffier he certainly deserves their thumping. This free-thinking expert in phonetics is unaware that social graces even exist, and his attempt at turning a guttersnipe into a duchess makes him notice other people's humanity for the very first time. This is a refreshing new take, making the familiar new all over again.

People who think they know the play from "My Fair Lady" or the Wendy Hiller/Leslie Howard film will be surprised how much more there is in the original play. For instance, there is much more here about a teacher's responsibility to see to it that what's been taught can be used in the real world, not snapped off as a useless parlor trick. This time the solution is not for the breezy, pontificating professor to love and perhaps marry his pupil, but to take her on as a full partner who might actually be a better teacher than he is himself.

If Bouffier is less triumphant as Higgins, Susan McConnell as Eliza is moreso. On press-night her appearance at tea --- a sort of mid-term exam testing her comfort with upper-class speech --- netted spontaneous applause for her excellent carriage and diction and her "small-talk" about memories of Gin Lane. The charm of this scene is not so much the scandalous things she talks of, but the veddy proper way she talks about everything, and the way everyone at tea reacts to her.

Eve Johnson as Higgins' mother and Alice Duffy as his housekeeper both try to beat some awareness into him of what the world might think of his making a young female protege move into his home for six months. Each in her own way makes clear the fact that this self-absorbed bachelor has little regard for the opinions of others, and no regard for the opinions of women whatever. Much of what they say today sounds less shocking than sensible --- though delightfully phrased.

Michael Bradshaw's Alfred Doolittle --- Eliza's father --- comes on first as a philosophical reprobate ready to sell his daughter for five pounds, then as unexpectedly rich. In each case his disdain for the evils of respectability remains as unswerving as his command of the stage and his sense of style.

Those are the major players here, and even Ron Ritchell as Higgins' accomplice Colonel Pickering has little to do. This fellow linguist, however, is painted as the antithesis of the play's eponymous hero --- a gentle man gracious enough to treat a flower-seller like a duchess, instead of proud of treating everyone with indifferent contempt.

In making Henry Higgins less of a hero, Director Polly Hogan has made everyone around him more human. And that's enough to make what might have seemed an old familiar warhorse new again.

Love,
===Anon.

"Pygmalion" (till 19 October)
LYRIC STAGE
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON
1(617)437-7172
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THE THEATER MIRROR, Boston's LIVE Theater Guide
| MARQUEE | CURTAIN | USHER | INTERMISSION |