Remy Bumppo's "Pygmalion" Review - A Shaw Masterpiece masterfully staged at The Greenhouse Theater Center

“Pygmalion”is a classic Greek myth, a psychological effect, and a play by George Bernard Shaw, first staged in London at “His Majesty’s Theater” in 1914, and currently in production by Remy Bumppo Theatre Company at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, through January 8th. The beautifully staged and fetchingly costumed play is the original script with its wonderfully witty language, and its famously ambiguous ending, but it’s carefully slanted to tell Eliza’s story, NOT the story of what was done “to” Eliza, as was emphasized in the famous musical version, “My Fair Lady”. This is achieved by adding the silently wise character of Elizabeth- an older version of Eliza -to the production. We see her examining Higgins’ things-presumably after his death-and from her attire and mien we know she’s fared well in her life- but we do not learn what has happened in the intervening years, and this is consistent with Shaw's original intent.

Nick Sandys, Sean Foer, Brian McKnight and Kelsey Brennan

 

Cunningly directed on a round stage by Shawn Douglass, well-deserved kudos belong to Stage Manager Dana M. Nestrick, Scenic Designers Jacqueline and Richard Penrose, Costume Designer Kristy Leigh Hall, Lighting Designer Andrew Meyers, Sound Designer Christopher Kriz and Properties Designer Jenny Pinson for an easy-on-the-eyes, delightful to the ears and nicely balanced presentation. The first rate cast of actors is uniformly to be congratulated for their grasp of colloquial as well as “plummy” British, and their fine sense of the absurd, although Mr. Doolittle may have been too expressively cute by half. The play stars the incandescent Kelsey Brennan as Eliza Doolittle, Peter A. Davis as the delightfully shrewd Colonel Pickering and Nick Sandys as the belovable, brilliant but socially clueless Henry Higgins, along with a strong supporting cast.

Nick Sandys and David Darlow

 

Does not everybody know this script? It’s post-Victorian Britain. The Women’s Movement is abroad in the land. Henry Higgins is a well-known phonetics scholar. He makes a bet with Colonel Pickering, a veteran of Empire escapades in India, that he can change a flower girl’s entire manner of behavior as well as drastically alter her speech patterns within a few months. Classical British humor gives this play a very special timeless appeal. Like the myth upon which it’s based, the story becomes a lesson in morality and the meaning of transformation. Ultimately, it is Higgins who gets his comeuppance as both men fall head over heels for the savagely witty street-smart woman they take into their lives- and, in Higgins case, into his home.

Kelsey Brennan and Laurie Larson

 

 Upon initial production, in 1914, The Telegraph called the play “a farce discussionary”, commenting, “It debates and dallies with all sorts of solemn subjects in the midst of its fun. It suggests all sorts of problems, problems of our social state, of ethics, of human nature, even of scholarship”. The same holds true 100+ years later, and because, thankfully, Remy Bumppo has NOT seen fit to change a word, the play is presented to us in the same pristine form- with the exception of the modern take the character of Elizabeth gives to Eliza’s point of view.

Kelsey Brennan and Kyle Curry

 

Dubbed “think theatre”, this award-winning company, known for its literary-minded productions and its dedication "To delight and engage audiences with the emotional and complexities of society through the provocative power of great theatrical language” has produced a 21st version of an early 20th century classic with plenty to be proud of. It’s highly recommended.

Annabel Armour

 

 For information and tickets to this and other fine performances by Remy Bumppo Theatre company, and other fine plays at The Greenhouse Theater, go to the RemyBumppo Website or the GreenhouseTheaterCenter website

Kelsey Brennan

All photos by Johnny Knight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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