NU Theatre’s Pygmalion: Classical text, contemporary outlook

By: Kevin McDonnell

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – Beware the Ides of March not because they are a premonition for the death of a Roman Emperor like in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but in the case of Western New York it means the promise of spring so rarely delivered. The long thaw of winter gives way to a concert of rainy days. However, there is no need for worry because at NU there are hardly days not filled with something to do. I do not solely mean days spent in Gally or the library, two Tim Hortons deep into a caffeine-induced study haze. No in this instance I mean one of my personal favorites, the arts, specifically theatre.

Behind the clattering of pots and pans in Clet Dining, the dull roar of student conversations and the lighthearted banter of the Metz employees lies NU’s Theatre department and with it, the Leary Theatre. It should be noted that this department is certainly impressive given its position at a smaller university. Niagara continues to produce a theatre season that is competitive with that of larger institutions in production content, variety and frequency. Larger schools often benefit from a large casting pool yet Niagara has continuously executed shows that demonstrate a high level of professionalism having been nominated for awards against other non-collegiate theater companies. All of that to say that Doug Zschiegner’s production of “Pygmalion” aims to further that trend.

“Pygmalion,” written by George Bernard Shaw in 1912, is more famously known by its musical adaptation “My Fair Lady.” The traditional story follows Eliza Doolittle as she is given a crash course in the rules of high society, having grown up more of a commoner herself. However, Zschiegner’s production is looking to take the play beyond its traditional story line and propel it into the 21st century; a concept the department has applied most recently in its adaptations to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Cyrano DeBergerac. In his version, the story focuses on a homeless Rwandan immigrant in London navigating her new home and reconciling her culture with that of her new British home.

“The play is perfectly good on its own, but we wanted to look at how class conflicts are different when race is involved. Our whole world right now is looking how to assimilate and accept people from other countries. We thinks this takes Shaw’s ideas and turns up the volume on them by adding nationality to the mix,” says Zschiegner, explaining the genesis for this adaptation of the play.

“Theatre is at its best when it entertains you and challenges your preconceptions. We hope this one does both.”

“Pygmalion” runs from March 28 to April 1. Tickets can be reserved online or at the box office and are free for NU students.

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