The Placer Performance Calendar


Great Local Shows - Theatrical Reviews

Title Pygmalion
Organization FreeFall Stage
Date(s) of show February 6 - March 1, 2015
Reviewer Gerry Camp

My friend Mimi and I braved the most ferocious storm I have seen since moving to Folsom in order to be among the fortunate audience at the opening of FreeFall Stage's production of George Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion." In Ovid’s original story Pygmalion was a sculptor who fell in love with the ivory statue of a woman which he had carved. In Shaw’s play Pygmalion becomes language professor Henry Higgins who “creates” a lady from a Cockney flower girl.

The advertising says that this is "the original story that 'My Fair Lady' was adapted from,” but don't go expecting to see "My Fair Lady." Shaw's play is much subtler, even darker, mainly because Shaw's Henry Higgins is not Rex Harrison's Henry Higgins. Played to perfection by a newcomer to FreeFall Stage, Matthew Rives, Shaw's Higgins is a supercilious, egotistical jerk from beginning to end. Nobody wants this Higgins, who thinks all women are "idiots" (except his mother whom he dotes on) to end up attached to his Galatea, Eliza Doolittle.

Of course the play is a comedy, and many of the laughs come from the incredible performance of Taryn Colburn as Eliza. Beautiful and charming, Colburn steals the show whenever she is on stage, whether as the "guttersnipe" flower girl with a screech that will make your hair curl, the would-be lady on her first trial run, or the strong, independent woman who can engage Higgins as an equal at the conclusion.

Colburn is young, in her first year of college, but she inhabits all of the manifestations of Eliza and wins the heart of every member of the audience. I could not stop laughing as Eliza, at a party with Henry’s mother and other guests, speaks to them slowly, pronouncing every syllable distinctly, but using the words of the Cockney flower girl. “What become of her new straw hat that should have come to me? Somebody pinched it; and what I say is, them as pinched it done her in.”

The rest of the cast is excellent, as well. Steve Watson, always one of my favorite actors, is delightful as Professor Pickering, the co-conspirator with Higgins and his foil. Eliza explains the difference between the two: “I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will; but I know I can be a lady to you, because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.”

Kate Muris, another newcomer to FreeFall, is charming as Higgins’ mother, the only person who can make him behave decently. Ben Whitlatch is amusingly dense as the potential upper-class match for Eliza, Freddy Eynsford Hill, and Trish Schmeltz as his mother and Emma Eldridge as his sister are convincing as upper-class snobs.

I must make special mention of Gabrielle Rocco as Professor Higgins’ housekeeper, who takes care of Eliza and is not afraid to point out the bad manners of her boss. Her performance brings more humor to the play, as does David Sterkin as Eliza’s father, a “dustman” (garbage man) who is proud to be a member of the “undeserving poor.”

The show is presented on one of the most beautiful, detailed sets I’ve seen at FreeFall Stage. The costumes, coordinated by resident costumer Tana Colburn (mother of Taryn) are perfect and beautiful; the direction by Deanne Eldridge keeps the show moving smoothly and effectively. It is indeed a wonderful evening of theater: a great play with a superb cast.

As the cast took its curtain call applause was generous, but when Taryn Colburn took her bow, the audience was instantly on its feet in gratitude for the wonderful treat of Colburn's Eliza. Her performance will make you forget any Eliza you have seen in “My Fair Lady.”

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