Pygmalion at CalShakes

Last week, Dave and I saw Pygmalion at California Shakespeare Theater. It’s a wonderful production.

What was so remarkable to us is that we’ve both seen the play several times, including a very good small production at Butterfield 8 less than a year ago (I also saw Peter O’Toole and Amanda Plummer on Broadway back in the 1980s), and we have seen the movie with Leslie Howard and Wendy Hiller several times, and then of course we have also seen My Fair Lady both on stage and on screen a few times; and yet in this new production there were a lot of new discoveries for us along the way, especially in the second half.

Anthony Fusco’s Higgins is freshly thought out, it isn’t much at all like Howard’s or Harrison’s or O’Toole’s, and yet it’s a completely convincing characterization that, for me anyway, held a number of new insights into the character and his part in the story. Same with Irene Lucio as Eliza Doolittle: she never once seemed in any way to be in the shadow of Wendy Hiller or Julie Andrews or anyone else, but gives a thoroughly fresh interpretation of the role that works well, is completely in keeping with the play, and yet frequently had me reacting with surprise to some new reading she gave to a line or new shade of color she gave to a moment. Wonderful stuff.

The whole cast is terrific. And James Carpenter just about stops the show twice with his two brilliant scenes as Alfred Doolittle. Jonathan Moscone’s stage direction is fresh and inventive, and entirely in keeping with Shaw’s intentions. (He does fiddle with the text of the play a bit, trimming some scenes and making use of a few things from Shaw’s screenplay for the movie; it works well.) Shaw’s famously unresolved ending, which neither the movie nor the musical saw fit to follow, works beautifully here — after the Butterfield 8 production, I was saying to friends that it was the first time I’d seen a production that followed Shaw’s ending and made it feel like the perfectly right and inevitable ending to the story; this production now makes two times I have seen this happen.

One more week. We’d love to get back for one more look, but I don’t think it’s in either our schedule or our budget. I highly recommend this production. Yum yum yum.

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