There is nothing like good art. Art that makes you think. Art that has nine lives.
Last week we saw the new production of My Fair Lady at the Lincoln Center Theater, here in NYC. It was wonderful. This story may be on its ninth or tenth life. The musical is based on George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, which itself is based on the Greek legend. I remember seeing the movie years ago. Rex Harrison’s Henry Higgins seemed like an old man compared to the young and beautiful Eliza Doolittle created by Audrey Hepburn. In the shadow of the MeToo movement, it now seems downright creepy. This is especially true at the end where the new, refined Eliza returns to Higgins, handing him the slippers that she had once thrown at him.
In this production, Lauren Ambrose’s Eliza is a worthy adversary to Harry Haydon-Patton’s Higgins. For those unfamiliar with the story, it depicts an uneducated flower girl who comes to Professor Higgins, and by extension, his colleague Colonel Pickering, for lessons to learn how to speak properly. She is a girl who lives on the street and pines for a warm room, a place to stay. She wants to change her trajectory in life. Mired in Mitzrayim, she meets Higgins and sees him as her way out. She is willing to do the work to walk through the sea and come out free on the other side.
Mitzrayim, the biblical word for the land of Egypt, literally means “the narrow place.” At our Passover seder, we are told that each one of us should see ourselves as if we each came out of Mitzrayim. As if we each came out of the narrow place.
In today’s life we are all squeezed. While we may not feel as if we are coming out of slavery, or living on the street, many of us can feel as if we are walking through the Sea of Reeds with the water holding up on each side. Work stress. Family stress. Life stress.Will the walls of water fall before we get to the other side? Will we make it to dry land? And when we get there, what will find?
For Eliza, she works hard and transforms herself into a new person. Higgins opens the sea for her and provides her with a path to change her destiny. She works hard every day, Unfortunately, Higgins himself has no clue that he himself is deep in Mitzrayim. He is so strangled by his own ego, he loses out on the best thing that has ever come his way. His mother, played by the marvelous Diana Rigg, can see what Henry can’t see. When it comes to the male ego, even his mother can’t help him.
[An aside:I first saw Diana Rigg as Mrs. Peale on the Avengers on tv. She was kicking bad guys before this Eliza was even born. Her bio noted that over her career she’s played both Eliza and Mrs. Higgins. She seems like a woman who knows how to stay out of Mitzrayim.]
As we sit down at our seder tables this coming weekend, many of us will already feel like we have come out of Mitzrayim. For some it has been an exhausting time of kashering kitchens, shopping, cooking, and creating beautiful tables. For others, it has been a time of study or a preparation for seeing ones family. Whatever your Mitzrayim is, I pray you all emerge with a new found sense of freedom.
Get ready to breathe free!