by Lynn on February 26, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Cher Menteur (Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters)

At the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs. Adapted by Jerome Kilty and translated by Jean Cocteau. Based on letters of George Bernard Shaw and Beatrice Stella Campbell. Directed by Albert Millaire. Set by Jean Bernard Hébert. Starring: Louise Marleau and Albert Millaire.

Produced by Théâtre Français de Toronto at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs until March 1.

Besides being a great playwright, George Bernard Shaw was a great letter writer. Whether it was a short missive or a long, impassioned discourse on one of his plays, he was celebrated for his correspondence. For a man alleged not to have consummated his marriage of 45 years to his wife Charlotte he seemed to carry on torrid affairs by correspondence to at least two great actresses of the British stage, Ellen Terry and Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

Shaw and Ellen Terry’s letters are bound in a book that is 334 pages. Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell’s  letters are in a book 385 pages long, although the size of the latter book is smaller. No matter, the letters are bracing, witty, impish, techy and full of insight into the theatre.

Playwright Jerome Kilty sifted through Shaw’s and Campbell’s correspondence, edited them and fashioned a play, Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters in 1960. The play was in turn translated into French by another celebrated playwright, Jean Cocteau. The French version is Cher Menteur. Théâtre Français de Toronto offers some performances with English Surtitles.

The play covers Shaw and Campbell’s first meeting, polite, coy, intriguing. They of course would have been aware of the other’s existence. He had a new play called Pygmalion and he wanted her to play Eliza Doolittle. The fact that he described Eliza as either 18 but no more than 20 and Mrs. Campbell was 49 did not seem to bother Shaw. She was a bit reluctant but eventually gave in to playing his “little slut” as Mrs. Campbell described her. She was adamant that she have a good Higgins. The correspondence between Shaw and Campbell discussing the play and characterization is an education in playwriting, acting and theatre.

There were times they wrote frequently and then nothing for months if not years. It was of course a close relationship but Campbell could throw Shaw a curve. She revealed that she was being courted by another man and later that she had married him a few days before. Both knew how to charm and exasperate the other but it was a strong friendship if not a love affair of sorts—Shaw was of course married to Charlotte. One wonders if he consummated his relationship with Mrs. Campbell, but perhaps that’s another play.

There is real charm in the Théâtre Français de Toronto production. Albert Millaire not only plays Shaw he also directs. He is dapper in a sharp white suit, red socks and smart shoes. He plays Shaw as obstreperous but also endearing.

He is beautifully matched by Louise Marleau who plays the part of Mrs. Patrick Campbell. She knows the power of her charm and allure. Her Mrs. Campbell often ‘plays’ or ‘toys’ with Shaw. Never underestimate an actress who wants to play a part. And eventually Mrs. Campbell made a triumph of playing Eliza.

While both actors hold their scripts Marleau seems more comfortable and has memorized much of it. Millaire consults his script more than she does. This is merely an observation rather than a criticism.

The whole evening dazzles with scintillating language, spoken by two actors who relish the words and the people and ideas behind them.

Cher Menteur (Dear Liar: A Comedy of Letters) plays at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Upstairs, until March 1.

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