photo: Joan Marcus
Director David Grindley seems to have brought the qualities to this revival of Shaw's Pygmalion that helped to distinguish his Journey's End last season: namely, a keen attention to detail, a pronounced avoidance of sentimentality, and a high level of integrity. The result is one of the smartest and sturdiest productions of any Shaw play I've seen in years and easily one of the best productions to play at the Roundabout's 42nd street stage. Grindley doesn't make the mistake of trying to mine My Fair Lady-like romance moments out of Shaw's play: his direction emphasizes Shaw's social ideas and his class commentary. (Although My Fair Lady is my all-time favorite musical, it is a different animal than this play, its source: lost in the adaptation were many of Shaw's snappy observations, such as the irony that once Cockney flower girl Eliza is transformed into a respectable lady, the only thing that society allows her to sell is herself). Further elevating this production are its performances, particularly its two leads. While Claire Danes makes a thoroughly excellent Broadway debut, emphasizing Eliza's determination and inner strength, the bigger surprise is Jefferson Mays' daring, out-there take on Henry Higgins as a bratty overgrown Mama's boy. His is exactly the kind of new interpretation of a classic role that I like to see: it's not how it's been done in the past, but it sure makes a lot of psychological sense and it illuminates, rather than distorts, the character.