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THEATER : 'Dear Liar': G.B. Shaw Plays Romeo

November 15, 1990|LAURA MICHAELIS | Laura Michaelis is a free-lance writer who contributes to The Times Orange County Edition

The story goes that George Bernard Shaw was introduced by his mistress as "the world famous vegetarian."

"And playwright," Shaw grumbled to the crowded room.

The anecdote is the opening of "Dear Liar," a play by Jerome Kilty based on the correspondence of Shaw and Mrs. Patrick (Stella) Campbell, the British actress who was his lover of more than three decades.

With two recent major stagings of Shaw plays in Orange County, B.J. Scott, president of the South Orange County Community Theater, thinks that there may be a revival in appreciation for Shaw, one of Britain's most well-known playwrights.

"My colleague (Edith Schwartz) and I were talking about it, and we both feel that Shaw is coming into his own again," Scott said, discussing the selection of "Dear Liar" for her troupe's upcoming reader's theater presentations. "We thought that this show would give an audience a background into this particular man.

"What you'll find in this play is that it is stamped with G.B.S. It shows his humor and intelligence and wit."

Shaw, born in Ireland in 1856, wrote more than 50 plays before his death in 1950. One of his most famous, "Pygmalion," was written specifically for Campbell--and is discussed in detail in the letters between the two.

"It's funny, but the play was produced years after it was written, and she was in her mid-40s when she finally played the part of Eliza," Scott said, adding that in her letters Campbell wonders whether or not Shaw wrote the play to make her look foolish and to have people laugh at her behind her back.

"She talks about Eliza's cockney accent, she hates it so much," Scott said.

The love letters can be viewed as a history of British theater during the early part of this century. Campbell, who was among the most famous English actresses of her time, toured extensively with her plays. And the two wrote often about the contemporary productions in London, Scott says.

But, more than anything, the letters are about these two people and their long affair, Scott says. Shaw, who was married, claimed that his wife knew all about his affair with Campbell. Campbell's husband died before she and Shaw met, and she later married another man while rehearsing for the "Pygmalion" production.

"He was just crazy about her," Scott explained. "He would write love poems to her, but the only thing that he could think of that rhymes with Stella was umbrella.

"In his letters, (the couple) sound almost like Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed lovers and all that. But in her letters it sounds more like a business arrangement. . . . She talks about her children and work."

"Dear Liar" is the second production in the South Orange County Community Theater's Reader's Theater series. Scott says that one reason that the play was selected is that it works so well without props and costumes.

"I think reader's theater is something that is receiving more attention," she continued. "People are getting more interested in literature, and the written word is coming back into vogue."

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