By Marcina Zaccaria
Pygmalion begins brilliantly with the audience standing outside a rounded stage. Posters of theatrical presentations are posted on the walls. Before you know it, the Bedlam ensemble takes the stage. Barking out their lines while audience members hover, Eliza Doolittle presents in Covent Garden.
Pygmalion is a broad swipe at the mainstream, and a study of what falls beneath the status quo. Fans of George Bernard Shaw’s 1913 drama remember Henry Higgins as a voice teacher to the flower girl left out on the street. If Eliza can find her voice, then maybe she can channel her spirit. With Henry Higgins and Mrs. Peace, she is cleaned, clothed, and given the speech lessons of her life. A testament to social order and the middle class morality, Pygmalion has stood the test of time.
The truth and heart of the matter is extraordinarily brought to light by Nigel Gore, whose brilliant Colonel Pickering is sturdy and forthright. Right beside him is Annabel Capper as Mrs. Pearce. Pearce, who trained at London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, carries the more difficult scenes with great aplomb. Adding a twinge of humor is Rajesh Bose as Alfred Doolittle, who delivers most of the text about class struggle. Together, they’re a tight ensemble, delivering the language of Shaw brilliantly. There are some surprises, though. While Tucker’s tutor is uncompromising, he seems a likely peer to Eliza, even in the opening sequence. What’s missing is the powerful age dynamic presented in Shaw’s original text. Also, Eric Tucker has cast Edmund Lewis, a man, as Mrs. Higgins. Though the cross- dressing is a bit jarring, it does not detract from the larger mise-en-scène. Against a red curtain, with perfectly designed end tables and even a phonograph, the office of Professor Higgins is polished and impressive.
Though there are a few, soft, quiet moments in the space, the incarnation of this drama, brought to life by Director and Performer Eric Tucker, spins beautifully. Tucker himself, winner of the Wall Street Journal’s Director of the Year Award has provided great ingenuity with the staging. As a Director, he makes use of the wing space, and the staircases in front of and behind the audience. The winding journey provides dimension and a great sense of scale. Inside the round, tiered performance area, actors play broadly, as though they were in London’s Globe Theatre. The immediacy of the theater is felt, seen, and heard; the characters are right next to you, creating a sense that anyone could participate in this moral dilemma of what to do with the girl.
Fans of Shaw might love this production, for its zest and fidelity to the original text. Vaishnavi Sharma’s Eliza has plenty of bluster in the opening sequence. Choosing an Indian accent, rather than cockney, her speech transforms into the graceful and grand tone of Higgins’ dreams. Eliza is amiable and charismatic. Her artful movement, in costumes aptly designed by Charlotte Palmer- Lane, shows Eliza’s grace. While her force of will is not duly challenged, it is matched in strength by Higgins, and not conquered by her adoring father. His shrewd machinations and calculating manner leave little in the way of levity.
This struggle is just as immediate today, as in years past. It is great acting and directorial vision that make Bedlam’s production of Pygmalion such a success.
Photos: Ashley Garrett
Pygmalion is running at the Sheen Center until April 22nd at the Sheen Center, located at 18 Bleecker Street in NYC. Run time: 2 hrs. 10 minutes (no intermission)