In today’s Wall Street Journal I review an off-Broadway revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion. Here’s an excerpt.
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Most American theatergoers know “Pygmalion,” George Bernard Shaw’s most popular play, through “My Fair Lady,” the even more popular 1956 musical version. The “Hamilton” of its day, “My Fair Lady” was filmed in 1964, and between the screen version and the stage version, which Lincoln Center Theater is opening on Broadway later this month, it’s become surprisingly hard to see “Pygmalion” in its original form….
Now Bedlam, which specializes in radically reconfigured small-scale productions of the classics, is performing “Pygmalion” in an 80-seat off-Broadway theater in a production staged by and starring the prodigally gifted Eric Tucker, the company’s artistic director. As always with Bedlam, this slimmed-down revival, in which six actors cover 10 speaking parts, is joltingly original in its approach to Shaw’s 1913 play. Purists may not approve of the results—but I guarantee they’ll make you think.
If you’ve never seen “Pygmalion,” you may be surprised to learn that it’s a comedy, but not, unlike “My Fair Lady,” a romantic one. Shaw went to considerable trouble to make clear that Henry Higgins (Mr. Tucker), the haughty, anti-social professor of phonetics, and Eliza Doolittle (Vaishnavi Sharma), the low-born Cockney flower girl whom he endeavors on a bet to teach how to speak and act like a Vicwardian lady, entertained no romantic feelings for one another….
What resulted was an effervescent satire with a hacksaw-hard political edge. Mr. Tucker has deliberately sharpened that edge by turning his Eliza into an Indian immigrant from Delhi whose “depressing and disgusting” accent (as Higgins describes it) is an all-but-impenetrable mixture of Cockney and Hindi….
I wasn’t always convinced by Mr. Tucker’s decision to depart so drastically from Shaw’s explicit intentions. So what? When an artist of such originality opts to veer off the main road and go his own way, the smart thing to do is follow his lead and ask questions later….
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To read the complete review, go here.