Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review of Pygmalion at Oak Park Festival Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Pygmalion. It was by George Bernard Shaw and it was directed by Jason Gerace. It was about this woman named Eliza Doolittle (Amanda Drinkall) who was being taught by this man named Henry Higgins (Kevin Theis). It is about their relationship as he teaches her how to speak well and behave like a lady. The problem is that Henry Higgins can a be "a bit" aggressive at times and he makes her feel bad about herself and scares her a lot. So, he is not the nicest of men. And she has to learn that she should be able to fend for herself and she doesn't have to do only what a man tells her to. It is about what it means to be refined, expectations, and strange friendships. This was a fun show with a strong cast. I really enjoyed the show.

At the end of My Fair Lady, which I have just seen recently at Light Opera Works, Eliza comes back to Henry Higgins, but in this show it seems more likely that she is not coming back. That is a more feminist ending than the musical; I can't believe that the later version is more sexist! My Fair Lady makes me furious because to make it a romance they turn Eliza into a weaker character. In this show, Eliza has a full speech to Henry Higgins about how she doesn't need his approval and how she wanted respect. She didn't want love, she just wanted respect and friendship. Of course, when he doesn't respect her and doesn't listen to her, that is why she left, not because she wanted a romantic relationship with him. I felt like this was one of the best scenes in the show because you could really see the feelings and how Eliza just wanted some companionship. Her father (Brian Rooney) doesn't ever hang out with her, and even the women she sold flowers with on the corner were not really her friends. They were just people around her that she had to hang out with. You can really see how alone Eliza is, which I hadn't really noticed before. I like the ending from Pygmalion much better.

I feel like the two most feminist characters in the show were Mrs. Higgins (Mary Michell) and Mrs. Pearce (Belinda Bremner) because they defend Eliza from Henry Higgins. They show her a lot of kindness and take her under their wings because they know Henry Higgins better than almost anybody and they can tell her everything she needs to know to get through living with him. Mrs. Pearce stands up to Henry Higgins when she thinks he is doing something wrong, even though she might be risking her job for Eliza. Mrs. Higgins is a good example for Eliza because she will speak her mind about Henry and will also defend Eliza's right to live her own life and not be tied to her teacher. Both of these women do almost everything for themselves; Mrs. Higgins does have butler (Michael Pacas) but she pays him and she lives on her own without a husband. I absolutely love these two characters; they are an example to Eliza that women can work and live on their own and you don't necessarily have to be married to have a good life.

I liked how the show didn't make you sympathize with Henry Higgins very much at all, because if you really like him you can't have as much fun at the show because you will be trying to find a way that he is right. Henry Higgins treats everyone like they are dirt, which is fair but not nice. But Colonel Pickering (Jack Hickey) treats everyone like they are Duchesses, which is fair and nice. If you are not too invested in Henry Higgins learning his lesson, which will never happen, you can just sit back, relax, and watch him be a jerk, which is what he does best and which is also really funny. I don't think the actor is unlikable at all, even though in my experience he does usually play jerks, but I feel like the route they took for this production was to make the character unsympathetic but funny, which I actually think was quite a good decision.

People who would like this show are people who like feminist housekeepers, strong Elizas, and funny jerks. I thought this was a really fun production and I really liked it. There are just two more weeks, so go see it!

Photos: Johnny Knight Photography

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