My Fair Lady
Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Kim Taylor

George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, which the musical My Fair Lady is based on, is a beautiful parable about the potential for human growth. On the surface the story seems deceptively simple, appearing to be the inspiration for one of those new reality TV shows. Indeed, it is a story of an extreme makeover of a rough speaking, raggedly dressed girl who barely survives by selling flowers on the streets of England.

When she confronts Professor Henry Higgins (Ken Rowland) and Colonel Pickering (Ian Swift) to buy some of her flowers, in Marin County’s Mountain Play production of My Fair Lady, Higgins makes a wager with Pickering that he can transform her into a high society lady in three months. Higgins, a professor of phonetics, is a confirmed bachelor and very set in his ways. No one, including his mother, has ever been able to change his brash self-centered character.

To Higgins the wager is merely a task that he accomplishes, a temporary hobby to pass the time. But for the Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle (Susan Zelinsky), it is a profound change. With the speech and manners of a lady, she can’t go back to her former life and with her education comes an assertive confidence that throws Higgins off balance. Suddenly Higgins realizes that his simple wager has turned into a web of emotional entanglements that a confirmed bachelor was never meant to deal with. Of course, the added dimension of music at times heightens these emotional entanglements to an operatic pitch. But the prevalent emotion in this upbeat musical is laughter, stemming from the vast differences between the masculine and feminine species.

According to one version of a Greek myth, Pygmalion was the king of Cyprus. He was also a sculptor and fell in love with his own statue of Aphrodite. Answering the king’s prayer, Aphrodite brought the statue to life as Galatea, and Pygmalion married her. In My Fair Lady, Higgins immerges as a modern, more comic Pygmalion that at first seems happier with the statue than with a real assertive woman. But just as Eliza Doolittle grows more aware, Higgins, influenced by Eliza’s blossoming presence, grows more human.

It’s this process of growth, delightfully rendered by the fine acting talent of Rowland and Zelinsky, that draws the audience in. We become part of their world and hopefully grow more aware and human from this experience. With James Dunn at the helm of the Mt. Tamalpias dramatic ship and a fine supporting crew, this production will sail into your heart with the echoes of mythological sirens.

For tickets or more information call (415) 383-1100 or visit www.mountainplay.org.

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