With a nod to the 100th anniversary of the premiere of Pygmalion, The Old Globe Theatre is staging George Bernard Shaw's rarely produced, often bitingly funny commentary on the classes. Brimming with Shaw's wit and irony, Pygmalion also gave the world two beloved characters: speech professor Henry Higgins and Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. If you've never seen it (on stage or the 1938 film), you certainly know the beloved Lerner & Loewe musical version, My Fair Lady, the staging and subsequent filming of which proved to be the crown jewel in Rex Harrison's career.
For this production, the Globe has enlisted a stellar team, beginning with newly named associate artist Nicholas Martin, who directs. Fellow associate artists Kandis Chappell, Paxton Whitehead, Don Sparks and Deborah Taylor stalwartly support Robert Sean Leonard in the role of Higgins and Charlotte Parry as Eliza.
Though the play's most memorable lines are well-known to My Fair Lady devotees, and laughter comes easily as a result (particularly when Sparks, as Alfie Doolittle, bellows across the stage), there's a darker tone to this Pygmalion that possibly the opening-nighters didn't perceive. Leonard's Higgins is glib and appropriately superior, but he seems preoccupied, even brooding at times (as when he climbs up the winding staircase to an organ and presses its breathy keys). As Eliza, Parry reminds us that in Shaw's telling of the story (as opposed to the sunnier musical version), this girl from the lower class is profoundly unhappy with her lot, and with herself, practically up to and including the very sobering ending.
So ingrained in our minds is My Fair Lady that we miss not seeing Eliza taking her English lessons from Higgins, and more absent still is any particular scene that suggests a budding affection (or perhaps more) between professor and student. But this was the play Shaw wrote, and his attitude was decidedly unsentimental. Pygmalion must be accepted on its own terms.
Besides Sparks' Alfie Doolittle, Whitehead is delightful as Higgins' crony, Col. Pickering, and the sets, costumes and the requisite London rain are all bloody good, as a crony of Eliza's might say.
Pygmalion runs through Feb. 17 at The Old Globe Theatre. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
The Brothers Size: A young man is recently out of prison and living with his car-mechanic brother when an acquaintance from the lockup shows up and causes some turmoil. Opens Jan. 26 at The Old Globe's Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
DNA New Work Series: La Jolla Playhouse is providing rehearsal space and resources to new playwrights developing their scripts, the results of which will be presented in staged readings or workshopped productions from Jan. 24 through March 3. Check lajollaplayhouse.org for the schedule of performances.
Gem of the Ocean: In August Wilson's play, a 285-year-old matriarch and former slave named Aunt Ester leads a man down a path to self-discovery in 1904 Pittsburgh. Opens Jan. 24 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
I Hate Hamlet: In this staged reading of Paul Rudnick's play, the ghost of John Barrymore calls on a TV actor who has a chance to play Shakespeare's tragic figure in a production in Central Park. It's presented by Intrepid Shakespeare Company on Jan. 28 at the Encinitas Library. intrepidshakespeare.com
Ruthless! The Musical: In this all-female satire, an 8-yearold wannabe star murders the girl who got the lead in the school play. Then some really crazy shit happens. Opens Jan. 25 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
An American Story: In this musical, playwright, actor, composer and producer Hershey Felder plays Charles Leale, the 23-year-old doctor who tended to Abraham Lincoln after the president was shot at Ford's Theatre. Through Feb. 3 at the Birch North Park Theatre. birchnorthparktheatre.net
Educating Rita: A dissatisfied hairdresser decides to enroll in an English lit class and seeks tutelage from an alcoholic university professor. The relationship forces both to assess their place in life. Through Feb. 3 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Leading Ladies: It's the late-1950s, and two struggling actors decide to pose as two missing men who are due an inheritance. When it turns out the missing pair are actually women, the actors decide to go through with the scheme in drag. Through Feb. 3 at Avo Playhouse in Vista. moonlightstage.com
A Feminine Ending: An oboist struggles to juggle her own artistic career and the demands of her boyfriend, a pop star on the rise. Through Feb. 10 at Scripps Ranch Theatre. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Clybourne Park: In this award-winning, sort-of sequel to A Raisin in the Sun, a suburban Chicago home is the setting for tense race relations in 1959 (Act 1) and 2009 (Act. 2), with the same actors playing different characters in each act. Through Feb. 10 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
Charley's Aunt: It's the late-1800s, and two college men want to get with a couple of young lasses. They plan a get-together to coincide with a visit from a rich aunt from Brazil. But, as usual with this sort of farce, things go haywire. Through Feb. 16 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org
miXtape: Generation X was torn between disillusionment and hope in this cavalcade of music from the 1980s. Produced by Lamb's Players Theatre, it runs through Feb. 17 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org
Pygmalion: You know My Fair Lady. Well, this is the 1912 George Bernard Shaw play on which that beloved musical was based—the story of professor Henry Higgins and Cockney student Eliza Doolittle. Through Feb. 17 at the Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. oldglobe.org
Pete 'n Keely: It's the late-1960s, and a successful singing duo who haven't spoken in five years have decided to reunite for a live TV special. Through March 3 at Lamb's Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
South Pacific: Love blossoms for two couples amid racial prejudice and World War II in this classic musical. Runs through March 17 at Welk Resorts Theatre in Escondido. welktheatres.com
Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net