Pygmalion, the delightful and probably most accessible comedy by George Bernard Shaw, is being given an excellent outing by the players of Different Stages on the stage of The Vortex theater. Carefully choreographed by Norman Blumensaadt, the company’s Producing Artistic Director, the production displays the wide range of human emotions evoked in Shaw’s story of the flower girl raised from the gutter to the heights of English society by the machinations of that cynical teacher of speech, Henry Higgins. Blumensaadt has achieved well-paced and engaging performances from his cast and crew in a throughly entertaining evening of a classic piece of theater.
Higgins is portrayed by Tom Chamberlain, who must be certainly on track for a nomination
for a second B. Iden Payne award because of this performance. His interpretation of the acerbic, sometimes clueless (in regard to basic human interaction) “confirmed old bachelor” is engaging, nuanced, and believable. For the most part, he moves along at high speed, and appropriately so, as he attempts to demonstrate what he believes is the hypocrisy of the upper class. But Chamberlain knows when to back off and show a more vulnerable part of his personality in his dealings with Eliza, the flower girl.
Amy Lewis, also a mainstay of the Austin theater scene, is a good foil to Chamberlain’s Higgins in the role of Eliza. She artfully portrays the flower girl who is made over from “baggage” on the curb to a “duchess at an ambassador’s garden party” and maintains her independence in spite of Higgins’ attempts to draw her back into his life “for the fun of it.” Her performance in the closing scenes as she tells Higgins and Pickering “the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated” was enthralling and moving.
Speaking of Colonel Pickering, the other “confirmed old bachelor” who bets Higgins he can’t turn a flower girl into a duchess, Craig Kanne provided a wonderful interpretation of the character. It was Colonel Pickering who was always the gentleman, and Kanne was immaculate in his portrayal as such.
Andy Brown’s portrayal of Eliza’s father, Alfred, was a bit too reserved for my taste, but I can’t fault at all his delivery of his extended monologues as spokesman for “the undeserving poor.” His articulate rendering of the complicated and lengthy speeches — Shaw’s sermons about class distinctions — was superb. He made a very strong case for underplaying the character more often shown as a braggadocio and blatant con man.
Katherine Schroeder, as Mrs. Pearce, Higgins’ housekeeper, and Bobbie Oliver (also a B. Iden Payne award winner), as Mrs. Higgins, were perfection in their roles as strong women who can put Higgins in his place. Each played her role with authority and with awareness of the subtle comedic aspects of their speeches.
Curtis Allmon, Sarah Danko, and Phoebe Greene provided excellent support in their performances as the Eynsford-Hill family. Allmon, in his first outing in a Different Stages production, was particularly noteworthy as the young love-struck gallant enchanted with “the new small talk.” Sebastian Garcia, Grayson Little, and Kate Trammell were effective in their respective roles.
Credit also must be given to the actors in the smaller roles for their parts in effecting the set changes. By necessity on the postage stamp stage of The Vortex, any changes must be done in full view of the audience. The actors moved with clock-work precision to make the transitions from a street scene to Higgins’ flat to his mother’s parlor and back again. Their efforts were actually an enhancement to the production and received the deserved appreciation of the audience.
Ann Ford must be applauded for her wonderful costuming as must Ann Marie Gordon for the effective sets. Jennifer Rogers and Jeff Miller were responsible for lighting and sound, respectively; their efforts were particularly noticeable in recreating the heavy storm that is the setting for the first scene.