Walker Productions

at Victory Gardens

A brilliant man nobly rescues a downtrodden, uneducated damsel and teaches her to speak properly, appreciate great books, and of course fall in love with him. It’s one of the most common male fantasies explored in film and literature, from Pygmalion to Pretty Woman. If a modern playwright rewrote the Bible to fit this hackneyed genre, most likely Adam would be recommending authors to Eve and taking her to see the latest Kurosawa film. Theresa Rebeck’s Spike Heels puts a predictable contemporary spin on this story, exploring the essential piggishness of the Pygmalion fantasy and telling us that (surprise, surprise) sometimes those poorly educated, street-smart people know a lot more about life than those well-read intellectuals.

Georgie is a tough, foul-mouthed woman of humble origins who’s been taken under the wing of Andrew, a sensitive, bespectacled political-philosophy professor. Though engaged to the prudish, upper-crust Lydia, Andrew has adopted Georgie as a sort of social-work project, quoting Nietzsche to her, teaching her to appreciate Homer’s Odyssey, and getting her a job as a legal secretary with his best friend Edward, a slimy scuzzbag lawyer.

When he learns that Edward has been making crude sexual overtures to Georgie at work, Andrew goes haywire. Because he’s engaged he can’t mess around with Georgie, but he doesn’t want anyone else to either. After Edward and Georgie resolve the sexual-harassment issue and go out for an evening rendezvous, the jealous Andrew postpones his wedding, realizing that he’s fallen in love with his pupil.

Not surprisingly, we begin to see that Andrew the Prig-male-ion is not all that different from Edward the Pig-male-ion. Andrew’s sensitive-martyr act is as offensive and exploitive in its way as Edward’s macho, treat-’em-like-shit attitude. Both are manifestations of a need to control their environments and the women in them. Recognizing that Edward and Andrew are weak, vulnerable creatures controlled by their need to control, Georgie and Lydia are able to redefine their relationships with the boys so that they can be the teachers and the males can be the students.

Watching Spike Heels is like watching a couple hours of pretty well written television. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary or unusual here, but there are some laughs and some clever, well-paced exchanges. There’s also some accuracy in the characterizations, but nothing we haven’t seen before. The play runs a little long and climaxes a wee bit early, making the final scene seem almost superfluous.

But the main problem with Rebeck’s play lies in her tendency to restate and overstate the obvious. When Andrew and Edward fondly reminisce about the times when relationships weren’t so complicated and men could blame all of their problems on women, one hears the author’s voice more clearly than that of her characters. And Georgie’s working-class sermon, a declaration that the privileged classes should feel ashamed for thinking they’re better than everybody else, is a little cloying.

Amy Field does a creditable job of bringing Spike Heels to the stage, offering a clean, crisp, well-acted production with the qualities of a rice cake–light, airy, easily digested, and just as easily forgotten. Pamela Gaye’s spunky Georgie is an especially complex and intelligent portrayal, capturing all of the character’s emotional highs and lows, and James Irwin’s Edward oozes the requisite amount of slime.

Rebeck is reportedly working on the screenplay to Spike Heels, and with enough cuts for commercial breaks her script should be in fine shape.