Review: Oy! In 'Pygmalion,' class consciousness is delightfully in session

Piper Patterson and Karl Lengel star in Mad Cow Theatre's production of “Pygmalion.”

In "Pygmalion," the great playwright George Bernard Shaw makes a welcome return to Mad Cow Theatre. It's the fourth time, the downtown Orlando theater has staged a Shaw work, said executive director Mitzi Maxwell in a pre-curtain speech. This production shows once again that Mad Cow knows how to do Shaw right.

From the moment the show opens — with the sounds of Big Ben's iconic chimes, the clip-clop of horse hooves and a clap of thunder — we are in early 20th-century London.


Robert F. Wolin's scenic design is equally evocative without being overly realistic — marble columns call to mind St. Paul's Cathedral. Shifting panels indicate the walls of a drawing room or office.

Adorning one set of those walls are images of open mouths, the tongue placed just so against the teeth, and a giant schwa — the upside-down letter e, used to indicate pronunciation. The odd decor is because we're in the speech "laboratory" of Professor Henry Higgins. His mission: to make a proper British lady out of Eliza Doolittle, a poor Cockney flower-seller.


If you're thinking, "Shouldn't they breaking into song about now?" you're recalling "My Fair Lady," the stage and movie musical based on Shaw's play. But without the tunes, attention is more strongly focused on Shaw's language. At Mad Cow, director J. Barry Lewis gives his fine actors every opportunity to make Shaw's comic, clever — and often scathing — points about the British class system.

In fact, Shaw is so eloquent, that the final segment starts to feel repetitious — we're already in agreement with him. In one sentence, Shaw sums up the vanity of the English middle class as Higgins describes his mother tongue as "the native language of Shakespeare and Milton and the Bible."

Karl Lengel sharply conveys Higgins' tunnel vision, summoning all of the professor's conviction: He absolutely believes he's helping Eliza better herself, with no thought of the consequences of his "experiment."

Piper Patterson finds the dignity in Eliza, the human worth inherent to everyone from a caterwauling flower seller to a society duchess.

The supporting players also make strong impressions: Shami J. McCormick as Higgins' mother, a warmhearted matron; Karel K. Wright as Higgins' housekeeper, who alone can see the danger of what he's doing; Bobbie Bell as Eliza's earthy father, who sees society more clearly than any of his supposed "betters."

Beyond class, Shaw is looking at treatment of women and how human nature always wants to make those who are different more like ourselves. In this charming production, Mad Cow reminds us why "Pygmalion" remains as timely as it is timeless.


What: Comedy by George Bernard Shaw

Length: 2:25, including intermission


Where: Mad Cow Theatre, 54 W. Church St., Orlando

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and Mondays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; through Dec. 18

Cost: $26-$40 with discounts for seniors, students and military; $18-25 on Mondays;

Call: 407-297-8788