Theatre Review: “I think we can do better”
Quintessence Theatre Company has dipped its toe into the ocean of Musical Theatre with the Lerner and Loewe classic, My Fair Lady. Based on George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion”, it’s a story that most theatre goers are familiar with. At the very least, we have had Loewe’s melodies buzzing around our heads since we were children. I went into the theatre, excited to listen to the music I know so well and fall in love with Eliza Doolittle all over again.
The lights went down in the fantastic Sedgwick Theatre and two uprights began to traverse through the overture. Amanda Morton, once again fooling us to think that she has more hands and fingers than the average human beautifully filled the space. She was accompanied by Christopher Ertelt, who also served as Music Director for the piece. Shortly after the overture began, the ensemble entered, began their dance, and it became evident that this was Quintessence’s first stab at the genre.
We quickly realize that this is a modern take on My Fair Lady, but exactly how modern, is hard to determine. Costumes (by Christina Bullard) and the set (Doug Greene) were a mixture of mid century and modern. Furniture was adorned with a MacBook here and there to remind us that, even though the men are in coattails treating women like second class citizens, we are indeed the present day.
Now, I don’t know if I forgot, or if it just lands differently in 2017, but the immense misogyny of this piece did NOT sit well with me this time around. Henry Higgins is a socially inept, condescending monster that, quite frankly, I don’t want to watch for 2 hours and 45 long minutes. I don’t find Alfred P. Doolittle and his hopes that his daughter will prostitute herself for the benefit of his wallet charming or funny in the least. Colonel Pickering offers the only respect towards Eliza, but his respect is book ended with him looking the other way when Higgins spouts vile insults at Eliza time and time again. Simply put: The piece is antiquated, offensive, and quite frankly, it’s a story that does not need to be told.
In Alexander Burn’s Director’s note, he writes: “It is our goal to truthfully explore the nuance of these two wonderfully human central characters and their very complicated apprenticeship. This is not to excuse the issue, but to say that it is through theatre we can collectively explore humanity’s greatest challenges.” Yes, theatre should absolutely be used as a microscope into the biggest issues we have with humanity. But almost three hours of a woman being abused and manipulated by a tyrannical bully only to come back to him at the end? I think we can do better.
To the credit of Quintessence, I heard that they tried to use the Pygmalion ending where Eliza leaves Higgins alone at his mothers house, but the licensing company did not allow it. Again I say: then WHY tell THIS story?
Aside from these issues, some stand out performances still came from the cast. Doug Hara, who played a lovable Pickering, Harry, and other ensemble characters was transformative, delightful, and a blast to watch. Leigh Kato brought strength to Eliza Doolittle and our hearts ached for her. The only belly laugh I had was from Stephen Tornetta as the butler. Gregory Isaac was given the monumental task of playing Henry Higgins and he was able to fill the shoes well enough for me to leave the theatre fuming.
My Fair Lady is runs in Mt. Airy at the Sedgwick Theatre and has been extended to Dec. 23rd.
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