There are some authors who just have a complete mastery of storytelling and the English language so that their works live on forever. No, oddly enough considering the source of the production, I am not talking about William Shakespeare but George Bernard Shaw. This is never more evident than in his master work, "Pygmalion" which is currently being presented by the Seattle Shakespeare Company. And as wonderful as the play itself is, Seattle Shakes current production is equally as rich and vibrant and pays full homage to the work and the man.
As Shaw himself expresses at the top of the show (yes the "author" is on hand in the production) this is not "My Fair Lady". No one will burst out into song and the rain in Spain does not stay mainly in the plains. This is the original work of which I never quite realized just how much was lifted by Lerner and Loewe when they wrote the musical. But I digress. The story is the same however. A cockney flower girl is taken on by a phonetics professor to teach her how to be a lady in Victorian England. So yes, the same story as "My Fair Lady" but without anyone singing about the street where she lives.
The production is absolutely marvelous. R. Hamilton Wright and Mark Anders make the perfect oblivious bickering couple as Col. Pickering and Professor Higgins. And Anders manages an added air of childlike petulance that fits the bill entirely. Jeanne Paulsen is outstanding as Higgins' mother. She straddles that line between overbearing and loving with style and grace. And Trick Danneker is giddily delicious as the snickering Freddy. I only wish he would have had more to do as in the musical. But no, this is not the musical. No one could have danced all night.
Special kudos to A. Bryan Humphrey and Jennifer Lee Taylor as Alfred Doolittle and his daughter Eliza. Humphrey engages an audience like no other and even managed to make the stage directions (as he read them as Shaw in certain scenes) intriguing and poetic. And Taylor handles the arc from brash flower girl to sophisticated lady with a sublime charm. But it's also her silence that made the performance great as at the top of Act Two she managed to tell volumes without ever speaking a word.
Absolutely gorgeous (and I do mean gorgeous) costumes from Deane Middleton. And brilliant direction from Jeff Steitzer. Not only was the pace of the show spot on but finally a director who knows how to use projections to set a locale but knowing when to stop. Seattle Shakes production is really just a glorious and fantastic one. To steal a term from the musical, it was simply loverly.
"Pygmalion" from Seattle Shakespeare Company performs at the Intiman Playhouse through March 11th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Shakes box office at 206-733-8222 or visit them online at www.seattleshakespeare.org.
Photo credit: John Ulman