In the Greek myth of the same name, the sculptor Pygmalion creates his vision of the perfect woman, Galatea, and breathes life into the statue with the help of the gods. In George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, Professor Henry Higgins changes the life of a cockney flower girl through the magic of language and a good makeover. At the Everyman Theatre, director Eleanor Holdridge breathes new life into this timeless story which has been told and retold in many times and many ways since its publication in 1913.
Every facet of the show shines with humor, wit and heart. The striking set by Daniel Ettinger smoothly transforms from a foggy London street to a gentleman's library to a glittering ballroom with the help of an energetic Edwardian household staff. The expertly coiffed and beautifully choreographed cast delight in the dialects and dilemmas of their colorful characters.
With great aplomb, Kyle Prue returns to the Everyman Stage as the obsessive phonetics professor, Henry Higgins. Higgins is antisocial, self-centered, chauvinistic and clueless when it comes to women. Prue manages to make him likeably cranky and unexpectedly sexy all at once. This element adds texture to his relationship with Eliza Doolittle, his Galatea. He vows to transform her from "guttersnipe" to duchess with the assistance of Col. Pickering, fellow dialect enthusiast. Stan Weiman perfectly completes the triangle as the kind and well-mannered foil to the petulant and impatient professor.
Jenna Sokoloski is superb as Eliza Doolittle, a turn-of-the-century Cinderella who decides not to be confined by the glass slippers after all. Sokoloski is by turns raucously amusing as the screeching flower-girl, hilarious as the lady-in-training, lovely as the princess at the ball, vulnerable as the deflated cast-off, and inspirational as the fully realized woman of class and character. We are never in doubt about Eliza's strength and spirit. Henry Higgins has met his match in Eliza Doolittle, and the chemistry between Prue and Sokoloski proves it. The hint of attraction and the tinge of yearning add depth to the farce. In the end, it is the student who surpasses the teacher in wisdom and maturity.
An exceptional supporting cast gets a chance to shine on their own. Wil Love, a resident company member of the Everyman, almost steals the show as Eliza's philosophizing, liquor-loving father. Drew Kopas takes two excellent comedic turns as both the infatuated Freddy Eynesford Hill and the pompous Nepommuck. As the elegant Mrs. Higgins, Helen Hedman is a vision to behold as she looks upon her son's foibles with the serene resignation of a mother whose son is an eternal bachelor and a big baby to boot. Lynn Steinmetz spars wonderfully with Professor Higgins as his long-suffering housekeeper Mrs. Pearce. Barbara Pinolini and Anne Grier nicely play the high-society mother and daughter who represent the class Higgins scoffs and Eliza aspires to join.
Well-timed teamwork and excellent direction allow the cast to achieve the comedic timing and emotional tone that makes this play such a pleasure to watch. Pygmalion takes on the themes of social class, human relations, and budding feminism with such verve and levity, the audience enjoys the lessons that come along with the laughter. It's a story for all ages and caps off Everyman's 20th anniversary season with an evening of sparkling entertainment.
Pygmalion runs now through June 19 at the Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St. Tickets: $10-$42. Call (410)752-2208 or go online to www.everymantheatre.org.