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THEATER REVIEW: The Old Globe's sparkling “Pygmalion” | VIDEO

“Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” wails Professor Henry Higgins, voice dripping exasperation after his “project” Eliza Doolittle behaves like – well, like a woman, and a human at that.

The world’s most famous professor is back onstage at The Old Globe, making a princess out of a flower girl and proving once again that a great story is timeless.

The Old Globe celebrates the 100th anniversary of George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion” with this sparkling production directed by newly named Old Globe Associate Artist Nicholas Martin.

Alexander Dodge’s fine revolving set is the backdrop for Shaw’s version of the old Greek myth about the sculptor who falls in love with his creation. Shaw’s sculptor is the overeducated but ill-mannered Professor Henry Higgins (Robert Sean Leonard), a phonetician who studies speech patterns and can pinpoint where a person lives (or was brought up) by the way he or she speaks.

This day, near Covent Garden, he spots pretty young flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Charlotte Parry), with a bedraggled look and anything but a pretty way of speaking. Her Cockney accent, in fact, is so grating as to be painful to listen to.

Colonel Pickering (Paxton Whitehead), another phonetician, arrives to find Higgins taking notes on Eliza’s speech patterns.

“She’s so deliciously low,” Higgins notes, and bets Pickering that, with his instruction, he can pass Eliza off as a duchess in a matter of months. The bet is made, without consideration of what will happen to Eliza if she succeeds.

You know the rest of the story. Eliza comes to live with the two old bachelors and housekeeper Mrs. Pearce (a spot-on Deborah Taylor) while Higgins trains her.

It’s little surprise that she succeeds spectacularly at her “coming out party.” It’s also less than a shock that instead of crediting Eliza, the insensitive Higgins ignores the girl while he and Pickering spend the night drinking and congratulating themselves.

Small wonder that the spunky Eliza, who just wants “a little kindness,” stomps out in a huff, vowing to marry the useless and rather dim Freddy Eynsford Hill (Robbie Simpson) and support him by teaching phonetics.

“Pygmalion” succeeds because the characters are believable and fascinating – and, in this production, spectacularly played. I mustn’t forget one of my favorites – Eliza’s dustman father Mr. Doolittle, played so well by Don Sparks that he steals every scene he’s in.

Henry’s mother Mrs. Higgins is not to be left out, either. Wonderfully played by Old Globe favorite Kandis Chappell, she projects elegance and style, and
displays more than a little chagrin at her son’s boorish behavior.

Robert Morgan’s costumes are top-notch, Mark Bennett contributes appropriate original music, and lighting and sound are well handled by Philip S. Rosenberg and Drew Levy.

A Shaw play is always a pleasure to watch, and this production is a particularly fine example.

The details

“Pygmalion” plays through Feb. 17 at The Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

For tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.