Shavian’s Spirit Meets His Match in Washington Stage Guild’s “Dear Liar”


One of my most unpopular views regarding theater is that Professor Henry Higgins of My beautiful lady-and of Pygmalion before that — is redeemable. Maybe even, at the end of the show, already redeemed. It might be an unpopular opinion now, but I have backups. My opinion would have been shared by none other than Ms Patrick Campbell, who played the role of Eliza Doolittle in the first English language production of Pygmalion.

Jerome Kilty’s play Dear liar, now airing as a pre-filmed production of the Washington Stage Guild, gives us a glimpse of how this great actress felt about this great play and the man who wrote it. Dear liar is based on letters between Campbell and George Bernard Shaw, who wrote the role of Eliza for her.

Julie-Ann Elliott as Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Nigel Reed as George Bernard Shaw in “Dear Liar”. Photo courtesy of the Washington Stage Guild.

Julie-Ann Elliott, recently seen in WSG’s online production of How he lied to her husband, plays Campbell, with fellow WSG veteran Nigel Reed as Shaw. Both read these vivid and brilliant letters, and the short narrative sequences between them, with great verve, skillfully capturing every mood, from flirtatious to professional, to affection to bitter to tragic. Shaw’s quirks, intelligence and charisma are wonderfully conveyed by Reed, who can bring hints of cheerfulness to even serious or odd subjects, heightened by a slight Irish accent. In the very first letter read here, we find him suggesting that his newly healed bone would make a good glove rack for her; later, he’ll keep her going with a long, rather bizarre monologue about her mother’s cremation. “You don’t deserve to be as smart as you are” is Campbell’s final wrap-up on her character, but she’s quickly won over; in no time at all, they are “Stella” and “Joey” to each other.

While Shaw, married, insists on bringing her infatuation with Campbell into all kinds of conversations – sometimes teasingly, sometimes more serious – she successfully parries over and over again. But Elliott, with a natural warmth, brings out both the fun and the tenderness of Campbell’s words. She even flirts sometimes, but decorum and mistrust continue to push her back. When Shaw stubbornly pursues Campbell on his well-deserved vacation and then finds himself abandoned, the pain in Reed’s face and voice is truly moving, despite his character’s unreasonable self-pity.

The Zoom format, with the two actors’ windows placed side by side, is ideal for this play, not only because it suits well the vanity of reading letters but because it highlights the contrast in the postures. actors: his relaxed, his straight rigid. At the same time, under the confident direction of Laura Giannarelli, the two interact as naturally as if they were sitting in the same room. Elaine Randolph, production / director of Zoom (assisted by Lauren Hyland as video editor), provided them with beautiful vintage backdrops, with Reed’s background taken from an image by Shaw’s own house.

Julie-Ann Elliott as Mrs. Patrick Campbell and Nigel Reed as George Bernard Shaw in “Dear Liar”. Photo courtesy of the Washington Stage Guild.

We even have the pleasure of seeing this Campbell and Shaw playing tracks from Pygmalion as the timeline brings us to the rehearsal period of this piece, and bicker over its technique and instructions. And we’re starting to better understand his take on the play and its characters. For a woman who could maintain a long and close friendship with George Bernard Shaw, dealing with Henry Higgins must have seemed like a piece of cake.

Duration: About two hours, with a two-minute intermission.

Dear liar streams for free until 8 p.m. on October 3, 2021, on the Washington Stage Guild event page, Follow the prompts to get a free ticket good to watch anytime during a 48 hour rental period.

Shaw and her star actress to drop lines in WSG’s “Dear Liar”

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