I envy the folks lucky enough to have attended the opening night performance of George Bernard Shaw’s brand new play Pygmalion in 1913. They were afforded an unfiltered observation of class war humor without the subconscious comparison to My Fair Lady – the musical based on this play some 43 years later.
Those original patrons would have appreciated the performance with their ‘Art Imitates Life’ goggles on. Today however we view Victorian era drama as politically incorrect at best or offensive to modern feminist principles everywhere. The British Players’ production of Pygmalion, however, offers viewers a glimpse into the world enjoyed by theatergoers in 1913. And what an incredible cast it has and what a superb production it is.
The British Players’ production of Pygmalion opens with a convincing thunder shower, crafted by lighting and sound designers Steve Demming and Nick Sampson, which inhibits the efforts of a street-lamp lighter and bears down on Mrs. Eynsford-Hill (Ruth Vernet) and her grown offspring Clara (Erin Schwartz) and Freddy (Todd Mazzie) who are desperately searching for cab ride home (a century before the Taxi App was invented).
Up strolls Eliza Doolittle (Jenn Robinson), who is earnestly trying to distinguish herself from a group of street folk (Alex Batselos, John Bailey Butswinkas, Leena Dev, and Ren Stone), to sell her basket of violets to anyone she encounters on the street. Ever fearful of addressing someone who might mistake her advances as something vulgar and illegal, she exclaims “I’m a good girl” to anyone who will listen and cries an awful “Ooooowwwa” at the slightest insult.
Passerby, Colonel Pickering (John Allnutt) nearly avoids becoming a would-be customer – exclaiming he has “no small change.” During the subsequent negotiation between Eliza and Pickering, Professor Higgins (Dan Owen) reveals himself from the shadows where he has been recording the utterances of all who are on the scene. Higgins and Pickering strike up an allegiance and ultimately enter a wager about how quickly the professor might be able to transform Eliza, whom he describes as “So deliciously dirty”, from street rabble to a lady of society.
Once at the home of Professor Higgins we meet his house keeper Mrs. Pearce (Sam David) whose job it is to not only assist Eliza in her reluctant transformation but simultaneously attempt to soften Higgins’ brutish and sterile social skills. Eventually Eliza’s absentee father Alfred Doolittle (Roger Stone) barges in with a scheme to benefit (extort compensation) from the efforts of Higgins and Pickering. As a card carrying member of the “unworthy poor”, Alfred defends his lack of “middle class morality” claiming he “Can’t afford it, can [he]”. Mrs. Pearce and the Professor’s mother Mrs. Higgins (Margaret Lane) work from both ends of the professor’s world to warn him of the consequences his folly might have on the life and emotions of Miss Doolittle – a topic to which he remains stoically oblivious to the very end.
… or does he?
From curtain to curtain the entire set remains on stage with the exception of some street pillars. Yet the audience is subtly transported between four distinct venues thanks to the wizardry of the entire production team: Albert Cola (Scenic Designer/Master painter); Mac McCord (Master Carpenter); Maggie Modig Set Designer/Scenic Artist); and Sonya Okin (Properties/Set Dressing).
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.