Pygmalion

By Hodgson, Moira | The Nation, May 23, 1987 | Go to article overview
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Pygmalion


Hodgson, Moira, The Nation


If vanity gets Valmont in the end, amother fixation gets Henry Higgins. George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion has been so eclipsed in the public eye by the musical versions on stage and film that many people have forgotten that in the play Higgins does not marry Eliza Doolittle. Like Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Pygmalion is an anti-romance; Higgins is a confirmed bachelor, arrogant, cold and rude, who can't give all his love to any woman but his mother. Eliza, however, will not take anything less.

At the Plymouth Theatre, PeterO'Toole gives a mesmerizing but eccentric performance as Higgins (and I don't mean eccentric just because he isn't a carbon of Rex Harrison). Sometimes he is suave and boyish, at other times he walks like a robot and delivers his lines in the strangest fashion, a little Shakespeare here, a little Wilde there and an occasional oddly placed bellowing or strangled-throat delivery, like an acting student trying out different styles. He makes no bones about trying to seduce the audience with winning blue-eyed stares directed up at the "gods" or to the back of the orchestra, nor does he mind looking bored. He is at times extremely funny, barking "Sit down!" at each person who is introduced to him at his mother's At Home, or telling his "guttersnipe" Eliza to "Shut up!" Producing his handkerchief, he hands it to her and says sarcastically: "Wipe your eyes; wipe any part of your face that feels moist."

What O'Toole lacks in this production(which is well directed by Val May) are the proper foils. He certainly does not find one in Amanda Plummer's Liza. Plummer continues from where she left off in A Taste of Honey a few years ago (a performance she repeated on Broadway when she was miscast with disastrous results last year in Shaw's You Never Can Tell).

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