10 March 2014

By Jove, I think they've got something: A Review of HIGGINS IN HARLEM at POP

Photo credit: Rich Wagner
     In Playhouse on Park's world premiere production of Lawrence Thelen's Higgins in Harlem, George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion heads to the Apollo Theatre, outside of which Higgins (Kevyn Morrow) meets Eliza (Geri-Nikole Love) and the fireworks begin -- even in the midst of a downpour.
     It's hard to create an adaptation that is both faithful to its original yet inspired and individual enough to allow us to experience the force of the concept anew.  Writer/Director Thelen, with the help of a very strong cast, pulls it off nicely. 
     Set during the Harlem Renaissance, the play follows the familiar bet by Higgins and Pickering (Bob Johnson) to see if, in just a few short months, the professor can make the incomprehensible flower girl pass for an university-educated African princess. The insults and idioms fly, and, amidst hurt feelings and hard work, so do the sparks.  Ms. Love and Mr. Morrow show the many, and varied shades, of a man obsessed with his student's progress and a woman who realizes she's nothing but a subject.
     The rest of the cast match the leads, but special mention must be made of Mrs. Higgins (Janelle Robinson) who gives the production its moral center, by voicing -- with aplomb and humor -- the things everyone in the audience wants to say to her son.
     The set, lights, and costumes are simple but smartly elegant (although the choreographed set changes seem a bit more fuss than needed).
      In short, I liked this production very much and think it has legs (i.e., I think other companies and groups will want to mount their own productions, including, I hope, high schools and colleges).  In the meantime, check this one out.  The bar has been set high. 

      I do have one suggestion for the playwright/director: In the climactic scene, when Higgins so infuriates Eliza that she stands up to him (and he exclaims, in essence, "Finally!"), I need it to be a bigger things for both. characters  Eliza's hardly been a retiring wallflower before, and Higgins has hardly held back his disdain, so why's this a revelation?  My two cents.

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