Monday, January 14, 2013

Phonetics and Shorthand



“Higgins: I find that the moment I let a woman make friends with me, she becomes jealous, exacting, suspicious, and a damned nuisance. I find that the moment I let myself make friends with a woman, I become selfish and tyrannical. Women upset everything. When you let them into your life, you find that the woman is driving at one thing and you're driving at another.
Pickering: At what, for example?
Higgins: Oh, Lord knows! I suppose the woman wants to live her own life; and the man wants to live his; and each tries to drag the other on to the wrong track. One wants to go north and the other south; and the result is that both have to go east, though they both hate the east wind.”  ― George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion

Although he based the tales in Metamorphoses on existing stories, Ovid presents them with a freshness and originality that made them uniquely his own. His writing is vivid, elegant, and succinct, with the stories including "Pygmalion"generally moving swiftly from beginning to end without tedious digressions or inflated language. Metamorphoses was highly popular with readers of the Augustan age (27 BC to AD 14, when Caesar Augustus ruled the Roman Empire) and became one of the best read books of the Renaissance, influencing Shakespeare and other prominent writers. The themes and motifs are as timely today as they were 2,000 years ago.
In ancient Greek mythology, Pygmalion fell in love with one of his sculptures that came to life and was a popular subject for Victorian era English playwrights, including one of Shaw's influences, W. S. Gilbert, who wrote a successful play based on the story in 1871, called Pygmalion and Galatea. Shaw also would have been familiar with the burlesque version, Galatea, or Pygmalion Reversed. It is with this background that George Bernard Shaw took up this myth and made it his own with the first performance occurring in April, 1914. Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a duchess at an ambassador's garden party by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech. The play is a sharp lampoon of the rigid British class system of the day and a commentary on women's independence.  Like all of Shaw's plays the wordplay is a delight rivaling Shakespeare in that realm.

I have attended several productions of Pygmalion over the years and was fortunate to see another yesterday afternoon presented at Theater Wit in Chicago.  Produced jointly by Stage Left Theatre and BoHo Theatre and directed by Vance Smith it was an excellent afternoon of theater.  It was an entertaining and straightforward production from director Smith and clearly brought a certain freshness and insouciance to this familiar, but invariably enjoyable, play.  The acting was energetic effectively communicating Shaw's humor.  The performances of Steve O'Connell and Sandy Elias as Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering, respectively, were outstanding.  While not the best of Shaw's plays, this is undoubtedly the most familiar due to the popularity of the musical adaptation by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe.

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