Dear Liar, Writers’ Theatre-Chicago.

Based on the long correspondence between George Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the actress with whom he was “violently in love,” Jerome Kilty’s Dear Liar is one of those charming, sedate, literate plays that inform more than they entertain: when the lights come up at the end, you feel you’ve done something to be proud of, like skipping dessert or buying that nice, thick new translation of The Brothers Karamazov or finally finishing that New Yorker short story.

What the play doesn’t do is threaten anyone’s precious beliefs about love, friendship, or marriage. Shaw may pursue Campbell or crab at her because he failed to catch her, but we never get the sense that he considered what he was doing a kind of adultery (he was married). Nor does their correspondence spur either of them to question their attitudes or motives or society’s perhaps too restrictive rules about marriage (think of the hapless fools in Shaw’s Candida).

Which means that, for all the loving detail about Shaw and Campbell, Dear Liar is not a very Shavian play. And that’s really a shame, because Robert Scogin and Marilyn Campbell handle the material flawlessly; Scogin in particular gracefully negotiates Shaw’s emotional highs and lows, conveying the playwright’s hysteria without ever becoming hysterical. Kate Buckley’s understated staging provides enough movement to keep the show visually stimulating without overwhelming the wit.

Scogin, Campbell, and Buckley seem primed to do a great play. But they’ve been given a mildy interesting literary trifle ideally suited to a theater set in the back of a bookstore, as this one is.