nytheatre.com review by Jon Stancato
August 11, 2007
"Oh she's warm."
For my money, it's one of Shakespeare's best lines, from the Bard's version of the Pygmalion myth [The Winter's Tale]: Leontes, the Pygmalion archetype therein, realizes that a statue of his deceased wife is, in fact (or, rather, in flesh) alive. These three words, serving as a sort of coda, reappear to poignant, shiver-inducing effect at least half a dozen times throughout John Ott’s alternately magical and trite Galatea.
To back up a bit, I should probably summarize the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, one of Ovid's most adapted tales (My Fair Lady and half the paintings of Gerome are among the dozens of incarnations). In the original, Pygmalion is a sculptor (and misogynist) par excellence. Unsatisfied by the world's real women, he makes one himself and is rewarded for his diligence by Venus, who brings life to his true love's lips (and limbs!). Beautiful and wistful though it might be, it's treacherous source material for any artist who possesses even a modicum of respect for women, what with its central metaphor of woman as object.
Ott sets his take on the myth in contemporary New York; the protagonist becomes a quirky sculptor with a penchant for quantum physics and the lady up on the pedestal is (literally) re-cast as a sort of performance artist cum mystic who has been exercising mind over matter and trance-ing herself into such stillness that our professional sculptor actually mistakes her for a neoclassical statue.
Though ostensibly a simple love story, Ott’s script also meditates on the very nature of love itself and on what it means to be a true artist, finding harmony in the seemingly contradictory philosophies (essentially East vs. West) that the lovers represent.
The text itself divides neatly into three parts: he said, she said, and we said. The first act, replete as it is with the obsessive intensity of Pygmalion's infatuation, is operatic and magical, strikingly and poetically staged by director Drew Leary. Of course, it's also the most blatantly sexist perspective the play offers, as Galatea exists only to serve as our male protagonist's muse and torturer. After what is frankly one of the most captivating Act One finales I've seen, Act Two’s mission to tell the story from Galatea's perspective strips the magic from the myth yet fails to offer any sort of revisionist take on the tale. All it proves is that he is as vapid as she, making it challenging for us to root too hard for this New Age-inflected romantic melodrama as it extends 60+ years in the future in the third act.
All of which is not to say that the energetic and charming duet of Akil Davis and Theresa Wentzell aren't endearing in their own right. While the two are still clearly adjusting to the spatial and acoustics demands of the Connelly Theatre, they do work hard to find the humanity in what is essentially a difficult text to naturalize, equal parts physics jargon (if I had a nickel for each mention of a quark...) and pseudo-Buddhist babble, with just a dash of James Cameron's Titanic thrown in for sweep.
Perhaps it is the presence of that third element, that sweep, that seemed to inspire everyone in the theatre besides heartless me to weep and succumb to the play's sentimental offer. While they had me at "Oh, she's warm," I just couldn't suppress my misgivings enough to give myself over to a play struggling to resolve whether it is deconstructing or reconstructing its misogynist source material.