at the theatre: houston’s alley

Who’d’ have thunk my little trip to Houston would turn into such a cultural orgasm?  I had few expectations coming down here and most of them revolved around craft beer and indoor shopping –  so far I’ve had neither.  What I have had is a feast of fine art. Now it’s finally time to take in some performing arts.  My friend is at the Alley Theater performing George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which I’ve never actually seen on stage before. (the Wendy Hiller film, yes; Lerner and Loewe’s musical adaptation, My Fair Lady, many times, of course, including a brief stint playing Colonel Pickering in the 9th grade.) What is oddly made crystal clear to me while watching the Alley’s entertainingly lush production is just how perfect a musical adaptation My Fair Lady really is.  Sure, it cheats a little for the sake of a happy ending but ultimately it doesn’t simply add songs to Shaw’s play, it augments the discourse on English class structure and the emancipation of women while packaging it up as romantic entertainment. Those subversive underpinnings are what this production nails quite strikingly: Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle are both fools,  mutually dependent and inextricably linked. Perhaps that’s why modern audiences always seem to yearn for them to go off into the sunset together. Touched as he was by his own lackluster love life, Shaw railed vigorously against the implausible success of the couple’s Romantic love, yet he, too, got it all wrong: Henry and Eliza do belong together, if for different reasons. It would take another forty years – and the arrival of both Rex Harrison and Sartre – for us to figure out exactly why.

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