John Ott’s new play strives to be more than a retelling of the classic myth in which the sculptor, Pygmalion, falls in love with his own statue, Galatea. In this two-person play, Ott attempts an ambitious treatise on how opposite beings instantly change each other’s lives. His vision is grand with recurring references to enlightenment, oblivion, physics, and illumination. The thickness of the text overpowers this production and, while we leave thinking about big ideas, we did not have an experience filled with the sense of the wonder, grandeur or mystery that these big ideas should inspire. Set in present-day New York, Pygmalion has a chance meeting with a street performer, Galatea. Her beauty instantly enamors him and they begin a romantic, artist/muse relationship. Their opposing life philosophies, more often than not, create greater conflict between them. Their conversations become the main action of the play – conversations about the nature of feathers versus bricks, the etymology of the word ‘phenomenon,’ and what it means to destroy and build. We are shown the development of their relationship from each point of view, which offers the first and only opportunity for the audience to receive a demonstration of how their differing beliefs inform their lives. This demonstration, however, takes place in the exposition and text, not by utilizing the large, bare stage or the virtuosity of the actor’s instruments.
In the balance of text, staging, design and acting, this production is skewed towards the text. The play does not leave much room for action and activity, which poses a great challenge to the stage direction. In one climactic moment, the characters fall into oblivion. The audience is asked to create the entire scene for themselves, while the actors stand still. I would love to see the actors, director & designers confront the challenge of presenting images for what seem to be impossible. Herein lies the magic the play desires to achieve.
The two actors carry an impressive load and exhibit great dexterity with the text. The ideas in the text, however, requires deeper connection and consideration of each moment to help the audience believe the life-altering intensity of their attraction to each other.
While Ott is clearly drawn to life’s big questions, this production amounts to a staged recitation. As is, it would be an effective read. A play about wonder and mystery, however, needs more majesty in its staging to help us experience the otherworldliness of Galatea.