Play to challenge societal stereotypes

Photo courtesy of Maya Michele Fein
Bryan Vickery, who plays Henry Higgins, sips tea during a rehearsal for “Pygmalion” Saturday evening.

The Shield interviewed Otto Mullins, a junior theatre arts performance major, about the upcoming production of “Pygmalion,” which will be shown at 7 p.m. Feb. 14-16 and at 2 p.m Feb. 17.

The Shield: What is your role in the show?

Mullins: I am Alfred Doolittle. So, I am the father of the title character Eliza.

The Shield: Tell me about the relationship between those two.

Mullins: When the show starts, Eliza is more of a lower-tier society character, and her father is also someone who is very low-tier, but they have very opposite views on it. She wants to rise up and have her own flower shop, whereas Alfred Doolittle loves being poor because there are no responsibilities. Nobody is harassing you for money, you can go around and ask other people for money whenever you need it, you can work when you need it, and it’s just very comfortable and easy. Throughout the show, when Eliza starts getting money, he tries to take advantage of the situation and ask the rich people who have taken her in and say, “Hey, you have my daughter, you should give me five pounds for her.” And they’re like, “Are you trying to sell your daughter?” And he’s like, “No, I’m not selling her, but I mean if you’ve got her, I should get something out of it.” It’s not a great father and daughter relationship. It’s a little advantageous, but I think what’s interesting about it is he still loves Eliza, and in like a weird way, he respects her more than anyone else in the show because he’s the only one who truly thinks Eliza would be okay on her own and doesn’t need anyone’s help. I think that really goes to show how much faith he has in her and what he believes about her.

The Shield: What do you feel like the main conflicts in the show are?

Mullins: Societal differences. It is truly the high class versus the low class. I think that when Shaw wrote it, he really wrote it as a parody of this class system that he was living in, and kind of poking fun at the finer ladies and gentlemen of the time. The show really takes Henry Higgins, for example, who is a caricature of what Shaw saw himself as, and he is so, not cold, but he’s so intelligent that he always comes off as condescending and superior and smug. (Shaw) doesn’t make him like a real person, he almost makes him like a caricature of it. You really understand he’s trying to make fun of these people. Then on the other side, you have Colonel Pickering, who is the epitome of a kind gentleman. He’s so much a gentleman that it ends up getting in his way a couple of times because he’s just so set on that. I think that really illustrates the societal differences, which is at the heart of “Pygmalion” because throughout it all we watch this girl rise up from lower class to the higher class, and through it all she tries not to change, but slowly the audience watches her change as all of her environment and stimuli changes. So, it’s interesting to dive into how much society and the people around you change who you are as a person.

The Shield: How do you feel like your character plays into that conflict?

Mullins: I don’t want to spoil too much because what is interesting about my character is that he starts off the show very, very poor and he really loves it and he comes into Henry Higgins house after he has his daughter and he asks him for five pounds and then they have a big discourse conversation. Alfred Doolittle likes to talk a lot. I’m only in two acts of the show, but I have the longest monologues in the show. I have monologues that will just go on for pages because he’s just this older, drunken gentleman that likes to tell stories and talk and hear his own voice. He shows this side of society and of people who don’t want to be rich, that doesn’t want all the money, that don’t want the responsibility of taking care of others. They want to be able to live truly for themselves, and not have to make $20 to give to their wife to pay rent, to give to their children so they can eat, to give to their uncle or all these other people who ask for money and ask for help. He doesn’t want to be that patriarchal head of the house because then everyone will keep asking him for help and he’ll never get to do anything for himself anymore. I think that’s how he plays into all of this because he shows what happens when Henry Higgins goes into somebody’s life without them asking and messes with it and changes it. Even though society would say it’s for the better because Alfred ends up getting a whole bunch of money from what Henry Higgins does, to Alfred, it is the worst thing that could have possibly happened, and his life is ruined. He has this line where he says, “My life is ruined. My happiness is destroyed. You’ve tied me up and delivered me away.” He truly thinks that getting all this money is devastating and life-ruining, and it’s all because he must stay alive now, so he can take care of his wife and his children because he has all this money and that’s what they expect from him.


The Shield: What are some things you have brought into your character from your personality or your own experiences?

Mullins: What’s really fun working with Elliot, the first day of rehearsal, we hadn’t gotten up on our feet yet, we were just sitting around the table and reading the play, and he kept repeating “Just keep being bigger. Don’t be afraid that you’re too big. Be bigger, bigger, bigger. Build the biggest character that you can. One phrase that he said to me that meant a lot, he asked me to build a character as big as my potential. I was really blown away, and it was really nice. It really motivated me to build this really bombastic person. What I took from my own personal life is pretty much my inability to be quiet. Alfred Doolittle is a very loud character, and I really wanted to make a big, vibrant voice that always stuck out. I added small little things to his character just to motivate him through different scenes. I gave him a really strong sweet tooth, just because I also really like sweets. Part of my costume is we are going to black out one of my teeth, so it will really just add to the whole dustman, garbage man, homeless mankind of appeal. There is a scene where I have the opportunity to steal chocolate, and I think it’s the moment where it’s the happiest he’s been in the entire show. A lot of the stuff I’ve actually added, I would say they are personality traits that I carry, but they are traits that I watch in the people around me. A lot of older gentleman that I see around campus or downtown and a lot of it was building a physical older person because I’m playing someone that is 40 years older than me. I don’t constantly think about my knee joints, or how my hips hurt. It was a lot more of taking those outside observations and adding them to me.

The Shield: What do you hope the audience walks away with?

Mullins: I hope the audience walks away with the idea that your assumptions and judgments are usually wrong about someone. A lot of the show in the first act, Higgins makes a lot of assumptions about Eliza—who she is, how she can think, and what she does—based on where she is at the time, and what she’s doing for a living. Throughout the show, she just continues to prove him wrong. So much so, that by the end of the show, you are just so proud of her and you have just watched this woman grow on stage. I can’t downplay how incredible Ashtyn is doing. She’s so endearing and delightful and you watch her on stage and you want to cheer for her. You want to root for her. Shaw writes some of the strongest and most intelligent women I have ever read before, and then he writes the dumbest men, and it’s so cool to see that interchange. I really hope the audience sees that. I hope the audience that those assumptions are just flipped on their head and are wrong. Maybe they can walk out and make an effort to get to know somebody they normally wouldn’t make the effort to get to know.