“What have you left me fit for?” Eliza Doolittle asks Henry Higgins at a pivotal moment in George Bernard Shaw’s “Pygmalion.” “Where am I to go? What am I to do? What’s to become of me?”
The play, which inspired “My Fair Lady,” has some serious themes. Having uprooted Eliza from everything she has known to prove his own skills, Henry is now obligated to think about the ramifications of his work, right?
The more challenging themes notwithstanding, Shaw’s play often comes across as a comedy of manners. The combination doesn’t always work, but the new production by The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble does its best to bridge the contradictions.
As Higgins, Mark Rand tempers the researcher’s arrogance. As Eliza, April Hayes successfully conveys the radical transformation of the poor flower girl into a lady who can mix with high society.
This production and the play itself are at their best when the characters are in the midst of important transitions.
When Eliza prepares for her first real bath, the scene is charged with intimacy and tenderness. Just before intermission, a series of cleverly staged vignettes shows the quick progression of Eliza’s education.
There are also some delightful interactions when we see Higgins lose some of his brash confidence as his mother, played by the wonderful Dandy Barrett, subtly and not so subtly puts him in his place. In those scenes, Rand brings a touching vulnerability to Higgins, who otherwise comes across as something of a snob.
Shaw’s play lags at times, however, especially when the dialogue isn’t propelling the plot forward and the characters aren’t changing. This production moves at a quick pace, features strong performances and is beautifully directed by David I.L. Poole, but at times it feels limited by the source material.
Sadly, “Pygmalion” will be the final Collective Face production at Muse Arts Warehouse. As I noted in a recent City Talk column, an apartment complex is planned for the site of the old railway building that has been such a fitting home for Muse. The ensemble’s spring 2017 productions of “9 to 5, The Musical” and “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” will move to Savannah State University.
There was an unusually good crowd for the first Sunday matinee of “Pygmalion,” so I strongly recommend reservations for future shows, especially in the evening.
IF YOU GO
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 9, 10, 16, 17; 3 p.m. Dec. 11, 18
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703 Louisville Road
Cost: $25 or $20 for seniors, students and active military
Info: 912-232-0018, collectiveface.org