Nobody’s lady

George Bernard Shaw’s classic play ‘Pygmalion’ enjoys a run at Jerusalem’s AACI Theater.

SHIRI BERZACK and Nahum Hackett star in J-Town Playhouse’s production of ‘Pygmalion.’ (photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
SHIRI BERZACK and Nahum Hackett star in J-Town Playhouse’s production of ‘Pygmalion.’
(photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion first appeared on stage in 1913. Named after the Greek mythological figure who fell in love with one of his sculptures that subsequently comes to life, the play was a biting critique of the British class system of the time. Pygmalion was adapted many times, but most famously as the musical My Fair Lady, with notable characters Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins. Pygmalion comes to Jerusalem at AACI’s J-Town Playhouse theater this month, opening on August 23 and running until September 4. Director Yardena Buxner sat down with The Jerusalem Post to discuss directing for the first time, the challenges and triumphs of community theater, and humanizing Higgins.
How did you become involved with ‘Pygmalion’ as director?
I’ve been involved with J-Town Playhouse for a while now. My husband and I kind of solidified our relationship when I was assistant directing The Importance of Being Earnest and he was one of my actors. So I’ve been involved with English theater here. My sister also does makeup and costumes sometimes. I acted in Pride and Prejudice last year and was also the assistant director. I got involved because it’s one of my biggest passions and I’ve always wanted to direct. The wonderful crew knew this. They gave me my chance and I’m so grateful.
So this is your first time directing a stage production?
Yes, it’s my debut.
What have the challenges been for you, both expected and unexpected?
Most of them were expected because I knew it would be hard to get people’s schedules together. An unexpected challenge was having difficulty finding the cast because I’m a new director. It’s not like when they hear the name Layla or Aviella and they start running down the line. It’s summer vacation and a lot of people go to the States to visit their families. So scheduling was the hardest thing. But eventually I was blessed with one of the most amazing casts ever. No matter how hard the search for them was, it was totally worth it. They are phenomenal, dedicated, talented and passionate. They bring so much and I’m really proud of them. In that respect, they make my life easier.
How would you summarize the play for those who are unfamiliar with it?
It’s an intriguing human piece about society. It’s about getting a chance to figure out what our strengths and abilities are beyond our labels, the economical situation we were born in, or gender. That’s why I think it’s relevant to any time. For instance, I have dyslexia. There were times that I came across a teacher who took a chance on me, showed interest, and then I started blossoming in that subject because I saw someone had faith in me. We see something similar in the play. There is a girl who is restricted, despite her talents, which are mentioned numerous times through the play. She’s restricted by society, by the fate of the stars, and by who her parents were. I thought that this was a very worthy piece and relatable. Even if you don’t know British history, or understand the different in status between upper and lower class, you understand what it’s like to be limited by the situation you’re in.
What do you hope that the audience will take away from the play?
I’ve always seen myself as a storyteller. I was one of those kids in shul who would have my friends around me and be telling stories. If it was funny, or moving, or interesting, I would consider it to be a success. My modest answer would be that I hope people have a good time and that we create characters that they can identify with, feel sorry for and triumph with. I hope that I prove that no man is a villain and no person is a hero. My main goal is to tell a good story and for people to enjoy themselves. But what would I like them to take away from it? That I’m a genius (laughs). I would like them to think about the story afterwards and understand more about who Eliza is because I hope that I’ve humanized her. I hope that they also see Higgins and that he’s broken. Even though he was born into riches, he’s also confined by society and his gender. I really just want to put on a good show and have people say that that was fun.
Can you give some insight into what rehearsals have been like?
The biggest highlight came yesterday. We didn’t have a rehearsal scheduled because I couldn’t make it. They decided to rehearse anyway on their own. They wanted to put in more time and more effort because they love it as much as I do and are as dedicated to it as I am. I’ve never met a group that wanted to rehearse more. These people are totally volunteers. There is this amazing camaraderie that has happened that I’ve never seen before in community theater.
Have you ever seen the play put on elsewhere?
I saw it years ago here in Israel. The BBC also did a stage adaption that they filmed, which I saw. But I decided to approach the text with a clear mind and to try to be as objective as possible towards it. I didn’t want to base it on what I’d seen, but rather on what are the characters thinking and feeling? I wanted to make it my own.
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