Sound Theatre Company's production of the Shaw comedy is a gem, from costumes to characters to the Cockney accents. Through Aug. 28, 2011, at Center House Theatre in Seattle Center.
Oh, that Eliza Doolittle! What a gracious lady she becomes, despite the fact that she’s nothing but an uncouth, unwashed, uneducated flower girl selling her wares in Covent Garden when we first meet her in Sound Theatre Company’s delightful production of George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion.”
Teresa Thuman, director and producer of this production, knows just how to capture the wit and psychological subtlety that makes this nearly century-old play a perennial favorite. Her careful editing did no damage to the work, but does reduce running time to suit contemporary audiences.
“I’m a good girl, I am,” Eliza (Carolyn Marie Monroe) keeps repeating, especially when the urbane Professor Higgins (Frank Lawler) proposes that she come and live with him.
He, however, is so wrapped up in his studies of phonetics that his only interest in Eliza is her appalling command of the king’s English. He’s a well-off gentleman anxious to study Eliza — not to sleep with her.
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Even better than study would be the attempt to teach her to speak like a lady. So he bets his cohort Pickering that with six months of training, she could pass as an aristocrat. Thus begins the transformation that is both fairy tale and sharp social commentary.
Lawler, as Henry Higgins, has all the scholarly energy and personal obtuseness needed. He manages to make Higgins appealing despite his self-centeredness. Bill Higham makes Col. Pickering an ideal foil for him. And Lee Ann Hittenberger, as Henry’s mother, captures the grace and even kindness of the upper class without losing any of that group’s stuffiness.
Monroe makes the change from guttersnipe to elegant lady seem absolutely believable. She’s particularly delightful in the scene where, zombielike, she attends tea at Henry’s mother’s house to practice the elocution and manners Higgins and Pickering have taught her.
The ingeniously designed set by Craig B. Wollam creates multiple venues, some quite lavish, that swiftly transform from one to another. Deborah Sorensen’s costumes would make any woman wish to return to the early 20th century, just to be able to wear those clothes. Eliza’s ball gown is a knockout.
Too often on Seattle stages, dialect is a weakness, but not here. This production has succeeded in providing well-rendered accents, from Cockney to upper-class.
One can never overdose on Shaw, so even if you’ve recently seen “Pygmalion,” you’ll find lots to delight in Sound Theatre Company’s production. (Seattle Shakespeare Company will be staging its own version of the play in the coming season.) And, if your only “Pygmalion” experience is with “My Fair Lady,” do yourself a favor and see a fine production of the real thing.
Nancy Worssam: firstname.lastname@example.org