Pair of crowd-pleasing shows open at Gloucester Stage

Gloucester Stage Company celebrates the literary life with two strong plays this month, going straight to the heart of British playwright George Bernard Shaw and American poet Emily Dickinson – and both are crowd-pleasers.?Dear Liar” is a 1957 play created by playwright Jerome Kilty from 40 years of letters exchanged by Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the British actress who inspired him to write “Pygmalion,” the play that was musically adapted as “My Fair Lady.”It?s about a very close miss – an intense four-decade emotional relationship that never became physical – and the test of wills is a joy to watch.Although the set includes a writing desk and a table at opposite corners of the stage, veteran actors Paul O?Brien and Sandra Shipley constantly cross into each others? spaces, flirting, fighting and reconciling like any married couple as they respond to each other and the history they lived through.Shipley has the tougher job as a public figure and the recipient of a married man?s affections but when she sits on Shaw?s desk she lets her affection show through her constant witty rejection of anything more than friendship.Playing an egotistical Shaw, O?Brien becomes the embodiment of Shaw?s most famous character, Professor Henry Higgins. He earns applause when he voices Shaw?s anti-war feelings, inspired by World War I but surprisingly contemporary n and when he rolls on the floor recalling a fight with Mrs. Patrick.By contrast, Academy Award nominee Lindsay Crouse is alone on stage for two hours as Emily Dickinson entertains a visitor n a packed theater of them, in fact n with memorable poetry, her life story and a cake recipe in “The Belle of Amherst.”Does it seem strange that a recluse could spend two hours talking about herself? Author William Luce may explain that subtly by noting that this recluse?s cake recipe would serve 25 people. Perhaps all her life Emily waited for a sympathetic audience that would listen to the story of “Squire Dickinson?s half-cracked daughter.”Moving gracefully about the stage in a long white dress, changing costume slightly with an apron for domestic pieces and a shawl for sitting, Crouse gives the audience Emily Dickinson as a witty rebel for the hour-long first act. In the second hour she shows us a woman who has suffered all the losses life has to offer n she rejects suitors and her poems are rejected in turn by pompous literary figures, and she takes a silent, sad audience through the deaths of her father, mother and favorite nephew.Her last line, delivered as she hurries off-stage to help her unseen sister, is “I?m here,” and for the audience she was.The “Dear Liar” performance schedule is July 25 and 27 at 8 p.m., July 26 and 28 at 3 p.m., July 29 at 5 p.m., Aug. 1 at 3 p.m., Aug. 2 and 4 at 8 p.m., Aug. 5 at 1 p.m., Aug. 8 and 10 at 8 p.m., Aug. 9 and 11 at 3 p.m. and Aug. 12 at 5 p.m.The “Belle of Amherst” performance schedule is July 25 at 3 p.m., July 26 and 28 at 8 p.m., July 29 at 1 p.m., Aug. 1 and 3 at 1 p.m., Aug. 2 and 4 at 3 p.m., Aug. 5 at 5 p.m., Aug. 8 at 3 p.m., Aug. 9 and 11 at 8 p.m. and Aug. 12 at 1 p.m.Ticket prices are $35.00 for all performances. Senior citizen and student tickets are $30.00 for all performances. For reservations or further information, call the Gloucester Stage Box Office at 978-281-4433 or visit www.gloucesterstage.org.

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