`Pygmalion' promotes an independent spirit

THEATER

Hopkins play shows a woman's worth

May 09, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Thanks to Lerner and Loewe, Pygmalion - on which they based the musical My Fair Lady - is probably the best known of George Bernard Shaw's plays.

Having seen My Fair Lady more often and more recently than its source, I was pleasantly surprised to be reminded of how many of Shaw's words made their way directly onto the musical stage. Indeed, watching director Suzanne Pratt's production of Pygmalion at Theatre Hopkins, you keep expecting the actors to burst into song.

They don't, of course. And toward the end of the evening, some of the performers seemed to be running out of steam. But for the most part, this is a creditable production with a spirited central performance by Gina Braden as Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower seller who becomes the object of a wager between two language specialists who attempt to pass her off as a duchess.

"Object" is not too strong a word here, especially considering the names poor Eliza is called by Professor Henry Higgins. He clearly sees her as little more than a guinea pig - or, at best, a "live doll," as Higgins' wise, concerned mother puts it.

Part of Shaw's point, however, is that Eliza has a greater understanding of human nature than the two supposedly "learned" men who attempt to improve her station in life. Braden's performance lets us see the tender workings of Eliza's heart without sacrificing a note of Shaw's broad comedy.

J.R. Lyston also delivers a good, blustery comic turn as Eliza's shiftless dustman father, a contented representative of the "undeserving poor" until he finds himself reluctantly hoisted into the middle class.

As for Henry Higgins, he is supposed to be emotionally stunted - a boorish, selfish, overgrown little boy, and while Harry B. Turner's performance conveys that, it lacks some of the spark fueling this obsessed scholar's pursuit of knowledge.

The musical filled in some scenes that Shaw left off-stage, most significantly, the ball at which Eliza dupes London society. It also made more of Freddy Eynsford-Hill, the upper-class twit who falls in love with Eliza. But Shaw's play isn't about love, it's about mocking the class system and promoting women's rights and the independent spirit. And all of that comes through quite nicely at Theatre Hopkins.

Theatre Hopkins performs in the Merrick Barn on the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. Show times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 2:15 p.m. Sundays, through May 19. Tickets are $12 and $15. Call 410-516-7159.

Professional readings

Four student plays, selected from more than 250 entries statewide, will receive professional staged readings at Center Stage on May 20 as part of the theater's annual Young Playwrights Festival.

Prom, by Derrick Wang, a senior at Gilman School, is a musical comedy that takes place in the days leading up to a high-school prom. Center Stage will present excerpts from the show, which was performed in its entirety at Gilman last weekend.

Just the Next Thing, by Anne Campbell Fidler, a sophomore at McDonogh School, explores the mysterious relationship between a woman called "X" and a man called "Y."

Silence is Golden, by Hasan Altaf, an eighth-grader at Thomas W. Pyle Middle School in Bethesda, focuses on a woman confronting a painful incident from her childhood.

The Magic Island Home, by Benjamin Patton, a third-grader at Whetstone Elementary School in Gaithersburg, is about two Kansas families from different generations who are brought together by Halley's Comet.

Show time for the Center Stage festival, at 700 N. Calvert St., is 7 p.m. The event will also honor recipients of honorable mentions. Admission is free, but reservations are requested. Call 410-685-3200, Ext. 374.

`Hair' piece

The Hairspray news just keeps on coming. In recent developments, the show has gained a Web site and lost an actor. The Web site is www.hair sprayonbroadway.com. The absent actor is James Carpinello, who was to have played protagonist Tracy Turnblad's love interest, Link Larkin. Carpinello, best known for starring in the Broadway production of Saturday Night Fever, dropped out of Hairspray in favor of a film role.

Link will now be played by Carpinello's understudy, Matthew Morrison, whose credits include the musical Footloose. Adapted from John Waters' 1988 movie of the same name, Hairspray begins a pre-Broadway run in Seattle on May 30.

One-woman show

Just in time for Mother's Day, the Walters Art Museum is presenting a one-woman show about a painter known for her lush portraits of mothers and children. Robin Lane's Mary Cassatt and the Impressionists will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday in conjunction with the Walters' exhibition The Age of Impressionism: European Masterpieces from Ordrupgaard, Copenhagen.

A Boston-based actress, Lane specializes in shows about historic women, ranging from United States first ladies to such artists as Georgia O'Keeffe and Frida Kahlo.

Mary Cassatt and the Impressionists will be presented in the Graham Auditorium at the Walters, 600 N. Charles St. Tickets range from $5 (for students) to $18. Call 410-547-9000 or visit www.thewalters.org.

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