Upon arriving at the Berkeley Theatre for Theatre Francais’ production of Cher Menteur, or Dear Liar, by Jerome Kilty (in a translation by Jean Cocteau), I found myself surrounded by what seemed to be a large portion of Toronto’s francophone community. I was nervous; my French is out of practice, and I did not know whether reading surtitles during a piece would detract from the experience of watching it.
I am happy to admit that this was not the case. Cher Menteur chronicles the letters written over the course of 40 years between Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw (Albert Millaire) and actress Mrs. Patrick Campbell (Louise Marleau), who played Eliza in the debut production of Shaw’s Pygmalion, and with whom Shaw was in love with.
As the show dealt with letters, I found it interesting to read along with the actors, and to see how the French had been translated from Shaw and Campbell’s original English text. What did seem odd, however, was that the actors were reading along as well; they had scripts with them for the entire piece, and the piece felt more like a staged reading of the letters than two actors trying to embody Shaw and Campbell. At first, this concept made sense. They were meant to be writing letters, after all. However, in the few instances when Shaw and Campbell have dialogue back and forth between each other, both characters also read off scripts. Marleau and Millaire are captivating performers and gifted comedians, and hearing them read such poetic letters is a treat. However, the scripts seemed to prohibit them from establishing the connection needed between the two characters in order for them to continue to write to each other for 40 years.
The piece covers all 40 of the years in which Campbell and Shaw wrote to each other, from 1899 to 1940. From Shaw’s experience during the war, to the process of casting and rehearsing for the first production of Pygmalion, to Campbell’s attempts at starting a film career in the United States, it tells a compelling story using a significant portion of verbatim text from Shaw and Campbell’s actual letters. It is certainly a must-see for any reader of Shaw’s work, whether you speak English, French, or both.
Cher Menteur is playing at the Berkeley Theatre until February 28, with English surtitles on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. Tickets $30-48. For more information visit: http://theatrefrancais.com/shows/dear-liar-cher-menteur/
photo credit: Avital Zemmer