Pygmalion By George Bernard Shaw
Directed by J. Berry Lewis
Starring Piper Patterson, Karl Lengel, and Mark Lanier
Mad Cow Theatre, Orlando FL
You can’t GET the part unless you look and SOUND the part. Professor Harry Higgins (Lengel) takes low class Brits and makes them sound high class; that’s a task particularly useful in a land where you can hear a new accent every pub. One night he’s out “collecting” accents and he meets another language nerd, Colonel Pickering (Lanier). The pair slums at the flower market, and they take turns demeaning the poor and differently accented. Their unfettered guyness piles higher and higher, and soon they get proud but honest Eliza Doolittle (Patterson) as an experiment: can they pass her off as a Duchess at the Ambassador’s ball?
You’ve probably seen this done as a movie; the dialog here makes you feel like those familiar big numbers are about to burst forth, only you’re told “Sorry, old sport. This isn’t a musical.” But even without Lerner and Lowe “Pygmalion” remains an entertaining and a wicked commentary on the British class system. While Higgins and Pickering represent the High Class Fop Party, pretty Eliza and her Socialist father Alfred (Bobby Bell) represent the Proles. Lanier’s Colonel is quiet and reserved and actually rather polite; he’s a solid contrast to Lengel’s Higgins as a complete frat boy ass. Lengel drives the laughs; he’s the bad boy suffering from cash toxicity and unhindered by polite society. Only his disapproving mother (Shami J. McCormick) can exert any control over him. Ms. Patterson’s flower girl begins charming and cheeky; she ends up humiliated and beaten down by Higgins and even kindly Mr. Pickering. As we all know, no good deed goes unrewarded. Only the housemaid Mrs. Peirce (Karel K. Wright) puts in a good word for Eliza, and here the entire subtext for this story boils down to “these two guys must be abusing this girl.” Of course they are, but not the way society thinks. Tonight’s show stealer is Bobby Bell. He has the commie cred, as well as the Trotsky hat to berate the wealthy. His speeches are moving and funny, particularly after his ship comes in to the tune of 300,000 Pounds Sterling a year. Back then he could have purchased all of Ohio with that coin.
Sets are elegant, as always, and the set changes are handles by unnamed but well dressed servants. Clever quips fly like Twitter messages; my favorite has Higgins bragging about his “Miltonic Mind.” Shaw’s fluid wit survives intact in this popular script; his Irish roots stand him well as a man of letters and compassion. He also writes some demonically funny material, and the mad Cow team does its typical wonders to put it on stage. Here’s a real classic about class warfare, delivered with a ton of class.
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