Why Bedlam's 'Pygmalion' Can't Be More Like a 'Lady'
Eric Tucker, the director and star of Bedlam's stripped-down take on Pygmalion, isn't concerned that Lincoln Center Theater is simultaneously mounting a lavish revival of the musical based on George Bernard Shaw's play. In fact, he welcomes it.
"It's a great thing for people to go and see My Fair Lady in a big Broadway house and then come to the Sheen Center to see basically the same text without the songs," he says. "They both have the same themes, characters, and many of the same words, but they show how different interpretations can be with classics."
Reimagining classics is a hallmark of Bedlam, a six-year-old, New York-based theatre company known for its inventive, minimalist productions (Sense & Sensibility, Peter Pan, Saint Joan). Pygmalion certainly feels like a Bedlam show with a cast of six performing all the roles and even occasionally mingling with the audience.
But those who know the story of Professor Henry Higgins (Tucker) molding impoverished Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle into a lady only from the musical may be surprised by the source material. As Tucker points out, the Higgins of My Fair Lady is much more sexist than the one in Pygmalion.
"I think the songs hold an extra layer of misogyny -- some of them are brutal," Tucker says, noting that "A Hymn to Him" contains the lyrics: "Women are irrational, that's all there is to that! Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags! They're nothing but exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening, and infuriating hags."
In contrast, Higgins in Pygmalion is just "stating a case for why he is a confirmed bachelor," explains Tucker. "He even says, 'I find that the moment I let myself make friends with a woman, I become selfish and tyrannical.' He knows himself and that maybe he's not cut out for that type of relationship."