George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” addressed many early 20th Century British issues, including the importance of language and how the way it was spoken influenced place in society, as well as the limited options available to women. Directed by Jessica Kubzansky the show opened on Sunday, March 22, 2015 to an appreciative audience at the Pasadena Playhouse. Set in 1912, Kubzansky remained true to the period, but with a hint of modern sensibility provided by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s scenic design and some of Leah Piehl’s costumes for Eliza Doolittle.
Paige Lindsey White and Bruce Turk were strong in the roles of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins and they handled the language well. Eliza, desirous of raising her station from flower girl to flower shop owner by improved diction comes to phonetics professor Higgins. With an ego as big as the whole of London, Henry bets that he can transform the cockney-speaking street urchin to the point that she will be mistaken for a duchess. He is aided in that project by kinder, more gentlemanly Col. Pickering (Stan Egi).
As the story evolves there are many witty and spirited exchanges (Shaw at his best) and considerable comedy, especially that provided by Mary Anne McGarry as Mrs. Higgins whose timing and delivery was sublime. Time Winters makes a delightful and memorable Alfred P. Doolittle whose station in life is inadvertently and without welcome raised by Higgins’ meddling.
All this may sound familiar as “Pygmalion” was adapted into the classic Lerner and Lowe musical, “My Fair Lady,” which resulted in this play being recognized as one of Shaw’s most popular plays.
Shaw envisioned a very clear and detailed picture of an oblivious Higgins. It is not surprising that Kubzansky chose to go a different direction, but alas she went too far, making what might have been a strong finish to the play mystifying and disappointing.
That being said, this is still a fine show and a wonderful opportunity to see one of Shaw’s masterpieces elegantly styled.
“Pygmalion” performs 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday through April 12. Tickets range from $30-$75 plus $125 premium seating. Call 626-356-7529 or visit www.pasadenaplayhouse.org. Tickets can also be purchased at the box office during hours of operation. Group Sales (8 or more) are available by calling 626-921-1161.
The Pasadena Playhouse is located at 39 South El Molino Avenue in Pasadena.