It’s been more than a century since George Bernard Shaw wrote his most popular play, "Pygmalion." The work has endured as a Broadway musical and film, "My Fair Lady," and transcended both cultural and language barriers.
Its descendant lives again in "Taste: A Wine Country Pygmalion" by Jody Gerham. But that’s where the seriousness ends.
“'Taste' was chosen because it’s just a big fun comedy, something we don’t get to do a lot,” said Steven Landry, managing artistic director of Acadiana Repertory Theatre and the show's male lead. “This was an opportunity to tell a familiar story, and it helps that it’s about wine and this is south Louisiana.”
Directed by Debbi Ardoin, the play will open ART’s 2017 season at their new home, Cité des Arts. The cast also features Abby Deger as Astrid, with Rick Manuel, Kristin DuBois, Andre Trahan, Andrew Mills, Monique Morton, Elaine Kibodeaux and Gabe Ortego.
Set in Sonoma, California, most of the action takes place in down-and-out winery Chateau Chevalier. Astrid’s mind is made up. She wants to force a sale and pocket the money, but after learning the winery has incurred a mountain of debt and that winning an award would increase the asking price, she pretends to be a duchess.
“It highlights the tension between activism and decadence,” explained Landry, who plays Joe, the Henry Higgins character in "Pygmalion." “Astrid, a street activist, sees creating premium wines and living in what amounts to castles not as an art, but as snobbish, opulent decadence and unnecessary. To Joe, winemaking is his passion.”
Whereas Shaw’s play was a sharp commentary on the British class system, Gerham’s version is much more comedic and innocent.
“People in general are suffering from anger hangovers,” Landry said. “We’ve found such joy from opening line to closing line in this show. It’s a fun group to hang out with for a few hours.”
Any social commentary in the play touches on narrow-mindedness.
“In today’s climate, people are finding different ways to divide themselves. It’s possible to identify with others,” said Deger, who plays opposite Landry, and like Astrid, also has a passion for social justice.
“No matter what background, we can find common ground and we have more in common than not,” said Landry. “We wake up trying to find differences to scream about. We have to stop.”
"Taste" is a developmental production, meaning the script is up for revision and actors work closely with the playwright, advising on what works and what doesn’t. Changes can be made by the playwright on opening day if necessary, with world premieres ideally taking place in a larger market afterward.
“To watch the journey is really nice. And it doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Ardoin said.
Six of her cast are from outside the company.
“I want the right person, whether in the company or not. We had open auditions, and we’re thrilled.”
Ardoin calls the play a fun comedy and a little campy.
“I love the voice of the female playwright. She has particularly good insight into Astrid, the female protagonist.”
For Ardoin, the must-see moment is the contest in the play, the Valley of the Moon Winemakers Gala which selects the season’s best wine.
“The gala is not to be missed,” she said.
Doolittle-character Deger prefers the beginning, when Astrid first gets to the winery.
“She’s plain old Astrid untouched, a modernized Eliza, hip-hop and things relevant today, but from an impoverished lifestyle and transformed. She’s just resistant, not naïve.”
Landry said at the end of the day, it’s just a really funny, enjoyable evening at the theater.
“We’re allowing people to step away from what they’re dealing with and emerge a happier person. It’s a charming and timeless story about people in different words colliding.”
And a reason for another glass of wine.
"Taste: A Wine Country Pygmalion"
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, and 7:30 p.m. May 25-27
WHERE: Cité des Arts, 109 Vine St., Lafayette