Review by Danny Gaisin
History 101 – Greek Mythology. 2006 years ago, OVID wrote his epic ‘Metamorphoses’ which 1500 years later, contributed to many of Shakespeare’s plots, i.e. ’The Tempest’’; “Midsummer Night’s dream” & Titus Andronicus. Chaucer plagiarized other sections and so did George B. Shaw. The latter modernized (circa 1912) the fable of a sculptor who falls for his granite creation, into the tale of a phonetics teacher who turns a guttersnipe into a lady by means of language, dress and mannerism.
Four decades later, Lerner & Loewe made Shaw’s account into their “Perfect Musical”; thus forever almost demolishing the original Shavian version.
The OAKVILLE PLAYERS under the direction of Brendan McDowell and produced by Mary Rose have revived the [almost] original Shaw and thus allow us to appreciate his philosophically and socially innovative concepts that are the core of the plot. Unlike the L & L happy ending, it is not the outward transmutation of Eliza Doolittle that is the point…it’s her self-emancipation which is at the vanguard of today’s woman. Today, the impact of the U.S.’s 19th Amendment is less than a century old. BTW – My grandmother was an early suffragette.
Back to the performance. It’s a sure success with some fantastic acting; great direction; impeccable costuming and even the proverbial ‘show must go-on’ incident. The lead role of Eliza is superbly portrayed by Sarah Robbins. This paper has previously described her smile & twinkle (Stage Door. ’12); “a standout” -in UTM’s ‘Semi-monde’; and convincing support-interpretation in Macbeth. All the foregoing are present in her powerful Miss Doolittle. She exhibits a natural comedic sense of timing. Especially noticeable is her potency in the Act V adversarial dialogue with her antagonist – Henry Higgins. ’Slippers – Get them yourself’… you go, girl!
Higgins is played by Peter Anderson in a decidedly non-Rex Harrison renaissance. Anderson puts his own stamp on the misogynistic bent of the character by delineating the overt callousness that the Broadway version exhibited. He may not be an agreeable personage but he is sincere to his innate psyche. He comes across as certainly credible.
There are three very strong support roles. Eliza’s father Alfred is portrayed by Robert Laszcz who is also the recipient of previous O.A.R. critical accolades. His dustman, whose status character also morphs, is not only a comedic opportunity but a thespian challenge. An effective directorial bit utilizes his posture changes as an additional underline. The potential love interest- Freddy Eynsford Hill is Kevin Bryan whose South African accent is still veddy British and his facility with a haughty glance; upscale snigger; and infatuated façade seem wasted on an all-too-brief stage-time. The Pickering role is taken by Gregg Hagglund and he is one very convincing colonel. The housekeeper – Mrs. Pearce, (actress-not character) developed pneumonia so ASM Robin Sadavoy in a true theatre aphorism, has stepped into the role. Just like the Peggy Sawyer persona in ‘42nd Street’, a new star is born.
Shaw never meant Pygmalion to be a happy-ending love story. McDowell doesn’t screw with the hypothesis. Thus the audience leaves pondering what Higgins’ life will be sans a supportive counterpart; and how Eliza will survive as a dichotomy of egos and personalities. See the play; ponder the outcome. PYGMALION is at the Oakville Centre for the Arts until Nov.24th.