A Glance in the Rear View Mirror... / by Gregory Isaac

MY FAIR LADY rehearsal photo by Linda Johnson

MY FAIR LADY rehearsal photo by Linda Johnson

I'm still trying to get my head around both the closing of MY FAIR LADY and the end of 2017. I have been so fortunate, this past year, to do so much wonderful work with so many very talented people, both in familiar venues and new ones that welcomed me with open arms.

I got to work on two productions at different theatres that - literally - could not extend their runs long enough to match the demand for tickets. I worked on another that, though the venue was small, still sold out virtually its entire run.

I was fortunate to be cast as challenging, flawed characters with great depths to explore, and repeatedly shared the stage with actors who were far more interesting for me to watch and listen to, than to heave my own lines toward.

And, yes,  I had the great privilege of concluding the year playing Henry Higgins - a rich, layered, deeply flawed, anti-hero, and one of G.B. Shaw's greatest creations. Taking on that role and witnessing the wide range of very passionate responses that the MY FAIR LADY elicited from our audiences was an extraordinary thing to experience in this current cultural moment. I know there were people who hated the show. I know there were people who hated my character. There may have even been people who hated me for portraying him. (And if you don't believe me, then read this post from one of the hobby bloggers in the Philly area who came to see the show.)

Many audiences simply loved the production, of course.  I was stopped by patrons who told me they had already returned to see it two, three, four times, and more.  Some people carried fond memories of the 1964 movie version and were enchanted by our interpretation. (I still have yet to watch that movie, but I was told many times by patrons that, "Mr. Harrison would be proud," which I presume is a good thing.)  Others were completely unfamiliar with the show or the story, and were blown away by both the production and the extraordinary material written by Shaw and Lerner and Loewe.

It is lovely (loverly?) to be liked, of course, but what I am most proud of is that the production affected nearly everyone who saw it.  Whether the response was a positive or a negative one, it made a powerful impression.  There were stories of families that saw the show stopping in the lobby afterwards and breaking out into generational debates about the residual themes of the work.  I believe that's a testament to the material and to the extraordinary team of people who came together to interpret it.  Our ensemble was deep and talented, but I am especially grateful for Doug, Bradley, Marcia, Susan, and of course, Leigha - superb scene partners, all, and each a joy to go head to head with every night as Henry.

I was gently accused, once or twice, of defending Higgins' behavior.  I respectfully reiterate here that I never had any intention of defending him.  What I did fear, though, as an actor, was that the work we did to construct a living, breathing, nuanced, multi-faceted character would become overshadowed by his flaws.  We certainly did nothing to mask or lessen his shortcomings.  We also did nothing to enhance those unsavory parts of his behavior to take advantage of the current social climate.  We simply performed Shaw, Lerner, and Loewe's words as written.  The one moment when we actively worked against the established norms for presenting the work was on the final line of the show, and I believe the contrition we explored in that moment was crucial on a multitude of levels.  Only does material that good continue to evolve and unlock new meaning with the passage of time.  Whether we - whether I - managed to present our Higgins in a truthful, meaningful way, is ultimately up to each audience to determine, but I, within myself, am content.  And deeply, deeply grateful.

2018 already has plenty in store for me.  As I write this, I am enjoying several days of down time and rest, but tomorrow will be the first rehearsal for WAITING FOR GODOT (also at Quintessence Theatre Group).  I'll be playing Pozzo with another group of very accomplished artists, so I gotta be on my game.  I hope the coming year is good to all of us.  Best wishes to you and yours!