Can 40 years of letters make witty drama? Yes -- if their Shaw's!
New York — Eliza Doolittle (Mrs. Patrick Campbell) really found her Henry Higgins in George Bernard Shaw. Watch "Dear Liar" (PBS, Wednesday, 8-9:30 p.m., check local listings for premiere and repeats) and see for yourself. Impeccably portrayed by Edward Hermann (you remember him as F.D.R.) and Jane Alexander (you remember her as Eleanor R.), the two characters have their fascinating relationship recreated on stage in a brilliant script by Jerome Kilty.
The famous actress who first essayed the role of Liza in "Pygmalion" came to have a relationship with author G. B. Shaw far more interesting than the actual relationship of the professor and his fair lady in that play.
Waspish, impish brilliance is what the world came to expect of playwright George Bernard Shaw in the theater. Well, it turns out that Shaw was even more waspish, impish, and brilliant in his personal correspondence -- especially those letters addressed to a celebrated British actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell.
For those among us who have ever had the urge but resisted the impulse to take a peek at somebody else's personal letter, left lying about the house, "Dear Liar" may satisfy all of those assumedly unsatisfied yens. It is 90 minutes of playful quibbling by two supreme egotists over a period of 40 years, filled with revealing intimacies and even more revealing bickering.
"Dear Liar" is based mostly on 40 years worth of witty, shrill, antagonistic yet still somehow loving letters, many of which were found in a hatbox under her bed after Mrs. Campbell's passing in 1940. Mr. Kilty also includes some of Mr. Shaw's own collection of Campbell letters as well as revealing interpolations interspersed here and there for continuity's sake.
The Hermann-Alexander interpretation of this legendary correspondence, taped live at a recent stage performance, is being presented as the second in this year's Hallmark Hall of Fame series through WGBH/Boston.
"Dear Liar" has almost as much flair as the Shaw-Campbell letters themselves. And that is quite a compliment for the actors.