A dialogue-rich pas de deux based upon 40 years of correspondence between self-adoring playwright George Bernard Shaw and imperious thesp Mrs. Patrick Campbell, “Dear Liar” features a luminous Katherine Henryk as Campbell. But Marc Grady Adams falls far short in communicating the sublime wit and vocal fluidity of Shaw.
Starting as the 19th century was approaching the 20th, Jerome Kilty has chronicled their early infatuation, coy flirtations, unabashed passion, bitter disillusionments and eventual resignation that they had aged into two “lustless lions at play.” Kilty offers a literate chronological evolution of their romance of words. Shaw penned the role of Eliza Doolittle in his landmark “Pygmalion,” specifically for Campbell, who played the role in 1914 at the age of 49.
Director John Houlton admirably keeps the stage business to a minimum, placing the emphasis on the “carnival of words” issued by two egotists who were only superficially aware of their responsibilities to others. Though both were married, Shaw was relentless in his pursuit, pushing his conjugal concerns aside with a dismissive “My love affairs are Charlotte’s greatest amusement.” When Campbell’s first husband dies, she keeps Shaw at bay by marrying again just before the opening of “Pygmalion.”
The difficulty in making this work flow onstage lies in the competing agendas of the two correspondents. Shaw is relentlessly opinionated, accusatory and self-protective; Campbell is more attuned to the emotional connection between them.
Henryk fluidly communicates Campbell’s mercurial agendas, exuding a winning amalgam of steely egotism and deep emotional need. One highlight is the rehearsal of the opening scene of “Pygmalion,” wherein Campbell stoically absorbs the often-insulting directorial commands of Adams’ Shaw, while her blazing stare gives every evidence that the actress is just short of a creative meltdown.
Adams struggles with Shaw’s rhythmically precise communications, occasionally stumbling or faltering over the words. More disappointing is Adams’ failure to recognize the comedic punchlines that Shaw quite often includes to underscore his stream-of-consciousness barbs and witticisms.
Jeff G. Rack’s elegant drawing-room setting serves as an inviting environment.