Saturday, January 05, 2008


"Pygmalion" presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre, December 12, 2007

This classic tale of creation, as told by George Bernard Shaw has been carefully revived by the Roundabout under the wise direction of David Grindley, who so skillfully brought WWI in last season's revival of "Journey's End."

Mr. Grindley has assembled a diverse, yet talented cast including Claire Danes in her Broadway debut as Eliza. Ms. Danes does come from a stage background, but primarily as a dancer before her breakout portrayal of the vulnerable and misunderstood teen in the excellent but short-lived "My So-Called Life" on television.

As Higgins, Jefferson Mays brings his significant skill to play as an overgrown boy, a spoiled technician who spends his intelligence on the minutiae of dialects rather than pay attention to those around him. This callow portrayal works very well, fulfilling Shaw's own interpretation that there was never any intention of romantic feelings between Eliza and Higgins. Boyd Gaines, turning in yet another solid and commendable performance this year, plays the shy, if sometimes befuddled Pickering, bringing the needed tenderness to Eliza's journey from the gutter to the ballroom.

In supporting roles, Jay O. Sanders' Alfred Doolittle is a blustering bear, reduced to Davey's lion with the thorn once the weight of middle class respectability has become his burden to bear upon his inheritance.

I give credit to Ms. Danes for taking on one of the theater's more challenging roles. In her case, it requires significant effort in that she must master not one, but two accents and pull off the transition from one to the other seamlessly. Her youth does show through in her first scene at Mrs. Higgins' (and the discussion of "the influenza" and "the straw hat what was to have come to me"), tossing away several of the jokes. She seemed to be missing a certain conviction of self - even though Eliza is still in mid-transformation. There were also a few moments in the second act when she still seemed to have the marbles in her mouth, but perhaps I'm expecting too much. Overall, she was lovely and performed admirably.

Sets and costumes are up to the Roundabout's usual standards of excellence under the talents of Jonathan Fensom. I'll admit that I'm a sucker for a rainstorm onstage - love that. I also liked the cinematic effect of the diagonally traveling set wagons and blackout curtains. Jason Taylor's lighting was an effective complement.

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