THE LOWER DEPTHS
The subway was the A.R.T.’s brilliant choice for Beckett’s ENDGAME some years ago, although the playwright kicked up a fuss. George Bernard Shaw isn’t around to object to Flat Earth’s subway setting for PYGMALION (slumming through Aug. 30th) and indeed, I wouldn’t if it worked but it doesn’t.
Director Devon Jones sends a passing parade of transit transients through the London tube in his adaptation but they only serve to upstage (by rocking and mumbling to themselves) the toffs who inexplicably prefer the stench of claustrophobic tunnels to an aboveground carriage or hansom cab.
Every scene has been transferred to a subway station. Henry Higgins’ mother now holds court underground. So do the royals: Even the grand ball where Eliza passes for a duchess is six feet under! Aside from the foolishness of the reset, there’s the slap in the face to GBS. His whole point as a dramatist and social reformer is the deleterious effect of class distinction. Put everyone in the subway, elbow to elbow, and there isn’t any distinction.
Henry Higgins might descend the depths for his research but his mum never would in a million years, nor would the other upper crusters in the play. They would expire before dressing themselves in public. Higgins is lucky no one pinched the rented jewels he places around Eliza’s neck in King’s Cross station: He evidently didn’t hear the loudspeaker warnings which pepper the play.
I tried to suspend my disbelief but those announcements kept reminding me of the disastrous setting. Even a knockout performance by Stephen Turner as Eliza’s father and fine turns by Katie Bond (as Henry’s mother) and Tom Beyer (as Pickering) couldn’t bridge that famous gap.
SMILE AND THE WORLD SMILES WITH YOU
A much more successful use of cross gender performance can be found in the NEW EXHIBITION ROOM’s ironic SMILE (already closed). Half a dozen actresses portray both male and female roles with gusto in this raucous and moving tale of feminist empowerment. The young women have come together for a weekend of “defensive” yoga to center themselves and unnerve the enemy. The “downward dog” now has a nasty kick.
No longer do women have to “smile” when a stranger commands it. “No” means “NO” after this seminar. Pity is, it’s only fiction.