Has George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion influenced more writers than Gutenberg’s printing press? The worlds of theater and film would certainly be less vibrant without it. The play, about an upper-crust phonetics professor who turns a Cockney flower girl into an elegant duchess, has yielded countless adaptations and variations for the stage and the screen, most famously My Fair Lady but also a Three Stooges movie, the ’90s comedy She’s All That, and more than one Bollywood version.
One of the most credible riffs on the Pygmalion yarn is 1980’s Educating Rita, which is running through October 28 at New Theatre. This time, the characters are a bitter, drunken university lecturer and the working-class hairdresser from Liverpool who signs up for his course as a way to “seek inner growth.” The two-character play strips the Pygmalion narrative down to its essence and throws some curve balls into the mix. There’s a reason why this play turns up in far more regional theater seasons than does the G.B. Shaw work — its themes of class division, self-improvement, and the flaws of institutional education only grow more relevant with time.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 5:30 p.m. Starts: Oct. 19. Continues through Oct. 28, 2012