Reviewed by David Kashimba
Photo by Jon McNally

George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, 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. (It actually was the inspiration for the musical My Fair Lady.)

When she confronts Professor Henry Higgins (Charles Dean) and Colonel Pickering (Chris Ayles) to buy some of her flowers, 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-Jane Harrison), 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.

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 Shaw’s play, 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 Dean and Harrison, that draws the audience in. We become part of their world and hopefully grow more aware and human from this experience. With Amy Glazer at the helm of Center Repertory Company of Walnut Creek’s dramatic ship and a fine supporting crew, this production will sail into your heart.

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