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A play about class

Great minds must indeed run in the same channels.

Pygmalion, George Bernard Shaw's 1912 play based on the ancient Greek legend of a sculptor who created a statue and then fell in love with her, is playing the first two weekends in November in Tarpon Springs.

On Nov. 13, My Fair Lady, the 1957 Lerner and Loewe musical based on Pygmalion, will play at the Performing Arts Center at River Ridge in New Port Richey. (See Look Ahead on this page.)

The two theatrical venues didn't collaborate; it's a coincidence, but a fortuitous one for area theater lovers.

Both productions tell the story of phonetic expert Henry Higgins and grimy Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle. Higgins believes that the way a person speaks reveals social class. Good speech, high class; poor speech, low class. He arrogantly boasts that he can pass Eliza off as a duchess by simply changing her manner of speech. She takes him up on his boast.

Shaw's drama is concerned with social issues. Eliza's father wants payment for the services he believes his daughter is delivering to Higgins and his sidekick Pickering. Henry's mother is very concerned about what will happen to Eliza once the transformation has taken place. Will she be able to return to her life in the streets once she has tasted luxury? Higgins, ever the snob, wants to prove his intellectual prowess to Pickering.

The musical is much more light-hearted and romantic. It's sort of "love conquers all," including all obstacles and all people.

Those who see both the play and the musical will be intrigued by the differences in the authors' perspective as revealed by Eliza Doolittle's choices at the end. In the musical, Eliza, in proper '50s fashion, hands Higgins his slippers, foretelling a life of dutifully loving servitude as his wife. In the drama, Shaw, an early feminist, makes clear that Eliza Doolittle is going to go her own independent way, which doesn't necessarily include the by-now adoring Higgins.

Avenue Players' director Diana Forgione has assembled an impressive cast. The most familiar to Pasco and Hernando theater-goers will be Linda L. Lindsey, as Mrs. Pearce, and Rick Bronson, as Higgins. Ms. Lindsey has appeared in several Richey Suncoast Theatre productions, including Plaza Suite, Richard III and Run for Your Wife. Bronson was Buckingham in Richard III and helped build the sets.

Pamela Reed, who has appeared in more than 20 stage productions, four films and nine commercials, plays Eliza. She teaches theater at Eckerd College. Douglas Ronk is Col. Pickering, Higgins' sidekick. Abbott Morgan plays Eliza's avaricious dad, Doolittle, and Midge Mamatas plays Mrs. Higgins, Henry's mum.

Each member of the 12-member cast has an impressive string of stage roles.

This is the third production by the Avenue Players since the group's formation in 1992. Earlier shows were Lovers and Other Strangers and Lend Me a Tenor.

The theater is in the City Hall Building, a former middle/high school, 3 blocks east of Alt. 19 in Tarpon Springs. Parking is free, and the theater is wheelchair accessible from the west entry of the building on Ring Street.

THEATER PREVIEW

Pygmalion, a drama by George Bernard Shaw, at Tarpon Springs Performing Arts Center, 324 East Pine Street, Tarpon Springs, Nov. 4-6 and 11-13. Shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $10. Call (813) 942-5605 for reservations.

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